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While exploring wilderness wisdom from several faith traditions---Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and more---you will discover how the universal experience of being present in nature can lead to startling discoveries both about God and about yourself. Drawing from his own significant moments in the wilderness and stories from the many people who have accompanied him on wilderness treks, John Lionberger asks probing questions and offers inspiring suggestions that will spur you to look at all aspects of the world around you from a new point of view.
Number of Pages: 158
Vendor: Jewish Lights Publishing
Publication Date: 2007
|Dimensions: 9.00 X 6.00 (inches)|
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Author: John Lionberger
Located in: Evanston, IL
Submitted: October 23, 2007
Tell us a little about yourself. A little about myself? Well, I'm 6'2" tall, have blue eyes, and until I was about 50 I was a very satisfied agnostic....although, in truth, probably an atheist who was hedging his bets, just in case.
Then I had an experience in the wilderness that changed everything. After wrestling with the experience for about 18 months--agnostics don't give up their disbeliefs that easily, after all-- I left the business world after nearly 30 years to go to seminary, with the idea of taking people into the wilderness for what I got. The name of my ministry is Renewal in the Wilderness, which is also the name of the book.
In retrospect I've begun to say that God ambushed me in the wilderness--and I mean that in the kindest, most non-combative way possible--and my life hasn't been the same since. In many ways I think my experience proves that God has an ironic and wry sense of humor....ambushing someone who pitied people who believed in God....and then not-so-gently pulling him into the ministry.
What was your motivation behind this project? SkyLight Paths Publishing (Woodstock, VT) asked me to write the book, and gave me a pretty short deadline but a very free hand in how it would develop. But the motivation was there before SkyLight Paths contacted me. I've witnessed some very amazing spiritual experiences among the people who've joined Renewal in the Wilderness trips, and I felt the experience was worth sharing. The response has been beyond anything I'd imagined.
What do you hope folks will gain from this project? A couple of things: First, the experience of God's presence in the wilderness is extraordinarily powerful, and I observed on my trips that it affects Christians, Jews, Buddhists and agnostics/atheists in exactly the same way. The atheists wouldn't, and don't, call it God, but they come to recognize that there is Something Bigger Than We Are, and they do call it spiritual. It's an equal opportunity spiritual experience, and the research I did for the book only confirmed that. People's wilderness experiences of God from 4000 years ago, in Israel, would be recognized and understood by the Inuit in Greenland 300 years ago, by the American Indians 200 years ago, by the Quetchua in South America 600 years ago, by the Muslims 1000 years ago, and by the Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and Shinto of 2000 years ago. It is that universal, that powerful, and that interchangeable. Second, in experiencing the spiritual power of the wilderness I would hope people would recognize that wild places are not just "holding rooms", for the next development. Wild places need no "improvement." At least ours. They ARE necessary to satisfy our thirst for understanding that there IS something bigger than we are, and that it is in these kinds of places that we get in touch with who we are, and importantly, who we are not, and who God is. Wild places help us keep ourselves in perspective.
How were you personally impacted by working on this project? Drawing off the answer to the question just above this one, I came to believe--as I saw just how incredibly similar spiritual experiences in natural places have been all across the world, regardless of religion, culture, temporal differences and tongues, for at least 4000 years--that the experience might be a "language" we could all use to speak of God without shedding blood in the process. That realization has utterly changed my viewpoint.
Who are your influences, sources of inspiration or favorite authors / artists? Certainly the Bible is a huge influence, generally, and more specifically, Jesus' wisdom, toughness, compassion, courage and sure-footedness are a constant source of inspiration, admiration, awe and reverence. I draw a lot of inspiration from the people who join my trips--who are willing to give up their comforts for a short time for the possibility that their lives might be changed forever--and have the courage to be vulnerable and are willing to go past the limits of the possible to the limitlessness of Possibility. And, of course, just being in a natural place is a source of inspiration and centeredness for me. My favorite authors, at least in this realm, are: Belden Lane, Bruce Feiler, Sigurd Olson, John Muir, Emily Dickinson, Wendell Berry, Sallie McFague, Rosemary Ruether Radford, Mary Oliver, Andrew Louth, and many others.
Anything else you'd like readers / listeners to know: Yes. If you buy the book I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it impels you to spend time in nature. And please know that it doesn't necessarily have to be wilderness; a walk around the block or through a park can have much the same effect, as long as you go into the experience with an open heart and mind about how you might experience God, and a willingness to be surprised. Perhaps both you and God will be thrilled. I hope so.