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Belden C. Lane

Professor Emeritus of Theological Studies
Saint Louis University

Email: Lanebc@slu.edu
Phone: (314) 497-9938



"We need that wild country…even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be…a part of the geography of hope."

-- Wallace Stegner on sacred places


As a Protestant member of a Roman Catholic faculty for thirty-five years, I've taught in the areas of American religion, the history of spirituality, and the connections between geography and faith. The relationship of Christian spirituality to the wonder and beauty of the natural world has always been close to my heart, whether seen in the earth-sensitive practices of Celtic spirituality or Calvin and Edwards' perception of the world as a theater of God's glory in the Reformed tradition.

I live with my wife Patricia, a spiritual director and retired school teacher, in Saint Louis. My interests include wilderness backpacking in the Ozarks, the magic of storytelling, the history of Desert Spirituality, exposing students to urban poverty through Karen House (the Catholic Worker), and the poetry of Rumi and Wendell Berry. Fascinated with ritual and the process of spiritual transformation, I work with men, helping lead retreats and initiation rites through Richard Rohr's program for Men as Learners and Elders, now under the direction of Illuman.

Drawn to sacred places around the world, my travels have involved camping in Egypt, Ireland and the Virgin Islands, hiking in Greece, Hawaii, and Australia, and study in England, Israel and Mexico. For six years I served in the pastorate, from a village parish in western New York State to the historic First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Some time ago I delightfully found myself introduced as a Presbyterian minister teaching at a Roman Catholic university telling Jewish stories at the Vedanta Society.



THE GREAT CONVERSATION:

NATURE AND THE CARE OF THE SOUL

 Oxford University Press (2019)

 

"We are surrounded by a world that talks, but we don't listen. 
We are part of a community engaged in a vast conversation, but we deny our role in it."

In the face of climate change, species loss, and vast environmental destruction, the ability to stand in the flow of the great conversation of all creatures and the earth can feel utterly lost to the human race. But Belden C. Lane suggests that it can and must be recovered, not only for the sake of endangered species and the well-being of at-risk communities, but for the survival of the world itself. 

The Great Conversation is Lane's multi-faceted treatise on a spiritually centered environmentalism. At the core is a belief in the power of the natural world to act as teacher. In a series of personal anecdotes, Lane pairs his own experiences in the wild with the writings of saints and sages from a wide range of religious traditions. A night in a Missourian cave brings to mind the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola; the canyons of southern Utah elicit a response from the Chinese philosopher Laozi; 500,000 migrating sandhill cranes rest in Nebraska and evoke the Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar. With each chapter, the humility of spiritual masters through the ages melds with the author's encounters with natural teachers to offer guidance for entering once more into a conversation with the world.

 


James Martin, S. J.: "Belden Lane's luminous new book is one of the most inviting and enjoyable meditations you'll ever read on finding God in the midst of nature. By turns calming, meditative, challenging, provocative, and surprising, Lane invites us to see the world around us as nothing less than God around us. Highly Recommended." 


Publisher’s Weekly: “By combining memoir with the lives of saints and other spiritual figures, Lane provides a stimulating testament to the spiritual value of the natural world.”

 

Foreward Reviews:“Belden Lane begins his enthralling The Great Conversation by explaining his twenty-year love affair with “Grandfather,” a hundred-year-old cottonwood tree that has acted as Lane’s “leafy spiritual guide.” This unusual, intimate embrace of one of the earth’s living things is symbolic of the relationship Lane strives to have with all of nature.”  



         
BACKPACKING WITH THE SAINTS:
WILDERNESS HIKING AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

(Oxford University Press, 2014)

A captivating account of solo wilderness backpacking as a spiritual practice

 

Carrying only basic camping equipment and a collection of the world’s great spiritual writings, Belden C. Lane embarks on solitary spiritual treks through the Ozarks and across the American Southwest. For companions, he has only such saints as Rumi, John of the Cross, Hildegard of Bingen, Dag Hammarskjöld, and Thomas Merton, and as he walks, he engages their writings with the natural wonders he encounters—Bell Mountain Wilderness with Søren Kierkegaard, Moonshine Hollow with Thich Nhat Hanh—demonstrating how being alone in the wild opens a rare view onto one’s interior landscape, and how the saints’ writings reveal the divine in nature.

The discipline of backpacking, Lane shows, is a metaphor for a spiritual journey. Just as the trail offered revelations to the early Desert Christians, backpacking hones crucial spiritual skills: paying attention, traveling light, practicing silence, and exercising wonder. Lane engages the practice not only with a wide range of spiritual writings—Celtic, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sufi Muslim—but with the fascination of other lovers of the backcountry, from John Muir and Ed Abbey to Bill Plotkin and Cheryl Strayed. In this intimate and down-to-earth narrative, backpacking is shown to be a spiritual practice that allows the discovery of God amidst the beauty and unexpected terrors of nature. Adoration, Lane suggests, is the most appropriate human response to what we cannot explain, but have nonetheless learned to love.

Backpacking with the Saints is an enchanting exploration of how solitude, simplicity, and mindfulness are illuminated and encouraged by the discipline of backcountry wandering, and of how the wilderness itself becomes a way of knowing—an ecology of the soul.

 

“Belden C. Lane has written a lovely book that seamlessly brings together two rich genres: travel narrative and spiritual memoir.  The notion of a spiritual journey, of course, is central to almost every religious tradition, but the author enlivens that tradition as he shares personal and heartfelt stories about his own peregrinations and muses on topics as varied as solitude, ecology, backpacking, beauty, and prayer; and on people as varied as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Dag Hammarskjöld, John Muir, and Bruce Springsteen.  A thoroughly delightful book.”

—James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

 

“If the earlier centuries of Christianity had been as honest, emotionally descriptive, and spiritually helpful as Belden Lane is here, we would have a very different notion of religion today.  Such wisdom as this will literally ‘save the soul’ of many a spiritual seeker.”

—Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

 

“The only problem with this remarkable book is that it cannot be read rightly from a comfortable chair. As Lane and the rest of the saints in these pages insist, what the soul most needs is not found in safe places but in wild ones, where the dangers are as real as the courage they call forth. So find a high rock, a far hill, or a patch of desert that scares you a little and let this book persuade you that you are exactly where you need to be.”

—Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Learning to Walk in the Dark