A SPIRITUAL FIELD GUIDE: MEDITATIONS FOR THE OUTDOORS
By Bernard Brady and Mark Neuzil
Brazos Press, $12.99
Reviewed by CHRISTINE HEINRICHS
Nature can evoke spiritual stirrings, regardless of one's religious affiliation or lack thereof.
Bernard Brady and SEJ's own Mark Neuzil have put together their favorite meditations to deepen and enhance our spiritual experience of the outdoors.
The Christian tradition predominates in this pocket-sized collection, and that's not surprising from a pair of professors from University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., a Catholic institution. Brady is a professor of theology and Neuzil is associate professor and chair of the journalism and mass communication department. Neuzil also was a longtime SEJ board member.
Most selections are from the Bible, though Brady and Neuzil include passages from writers like Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Barbara Kingsolver, Mother Teresa, Chief Seattle, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Julian of Norwich, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Henry David Thoreau and St. Francis of Assisi. The authors include quotations from less prominent individuals, too: astronauts Edgar Mitchell, James Irwin and Gene Cernan.
Their selections are culturally familiar ones even in the secular world: the Garden of Eden, Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and selections from other religious traditions like the Buddhist scriptures.
One of the book's moral lessons: The call of religion for humans to be good stewards of the earth can be understood as an imperative for environmental protection, and on the flip side, pollution can reflect spiritual failure.
The authors bridge literary selections with their own guidance and direction on the types of inspiration that can emerge from nature and the many reasons we seek such experiences in nature. They give us reading plans – for an afternoon, a day or a week spent in Nature – to understand our relation to it and to the divine.
"One of our hopes for the book is that people use it in the field," Neuzil said in a phone interview. "I hope people take it with them, in the tackle box, or motorcycle saddle bag. I hope they get fish guts on it. I'd be honored if people spilled coffee and goose blood on it."
The book cover is designed to look already tattered by the kind of use it deserves: crammed into a pocket on regular outings into the outdoors. (It has become my companion on my own ramblings and paddling trips.)
The book is already in its second printing, having sold out its first run in a few months. Such brisk sales suggest it is answering a need. Chances are, it will turn up in unexpected places. Stay on the alert for its pre-tattered cover and the opportunity to open a conversation on the spiritual, a subject that doesn't often arise in our daily work.
Christine Heinrichs is a Madison, Wisc.,-based freelancer who writes about genetic diversity and other issues relating to rare and historic poultry, environmental issues on golf courses and environmental law.
** From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal Winter, 2005 issue