Belden C. Lane, professor of Theological Studies and American Studies at St. Louis University, has written a compelling book about desert and mountain imagery in the Christian apophatic tradition. The author, a Presbyterian minister, juxtaposes his own desert experiences at various monasteries with the dying of his mother from cancer and Alzheimer's. Using a rich repertoire of quotations from the Buddhists of Tibet, the desert fathers of early Christianity, the Native Americans of the Southwest, and a wonderful crosscut of writers and naturalists (Terry Tempest Williams, Edward Abbey, Kathleen Norris, Tony Hillerman, etc.) Lane depicts the danger and the desolation of the desert as a boon to the soul with "its unmitigated honesty, its dreadful capacity to strip bear, its long compelling silence."
In the counterculture spirituality of the Christian desert fathers, these fierce landscapes signaled the death of self, the limits of language, the unknowability of God, and the threat of nothingness. Lane rediscovers the meaning of love in his encounters with the Holy One in desolate places. He comes to see and to affirm the joyous freedom of the desert eccentric, the power of compassion as the fruit of indifference, and a degree of ecological sensitivity emerging from a closeness to the land.
The Solace of Fierce Landscapes is a deeply reverential account of the connection between spirituality and place. It also is beautifully written.