Castle Rock Institute Blog
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Wilderness Experience

I picked up my well-worn copy of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes the other day, a book by Belden C. Lane a Professor of Theological Studies and American Studies at St. Louis University. I've used it before in my comparative religions class, and for many of the students it was one of their favorites. It's very well written-- personal, insightful, articulate, moving-- and offers so much when considering the relationship between nature and religion. Consider this passage about the experience of being in the wilderness.

"In desert and mountain wilderness, people discover liminal places suggesting thresholds between where they have been and where they are going. Whether they experience these places as dream symbols or rites of passage, whether they physically travel through the wild or enter it metaphorically through an experience of profound crisis, such sites mark important points of transition in their lives. Out on the edge-- in the desert waste or suspended between earth and sky-- they transgress the limits of culture, language, and all personal boundaries by which their lives are framed. In whatever form one may find it, 'the desert loves to strip bare,' as Saint Jerome insisted. The desert reduces one to a rawboned simplicity. Life out there is lawless. The structured patterns of civilization do not extend that far. Law and order break down. You quickly come to an end of what you have depended upon to give continuity and meaning to your life."

Spending a significant time in the wilderness, whether abroad in Australia and New Zealand or here in the mountains of North Carolina, is the core of all Castle Rock programs. That experience of wilderness, we've found, is an ideal context for the sort of self-reflective humanities study that leads to truly meaningful learning. The various levels of liminality wilderness experience engenders provide extended opportunities for this kind of personal transformation.

CRI alumni always remark how important their semester was to them, and I think this helps explain why.
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