Thursday, August 18, 2005

Book Review - Period ended 8/18/2005

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Book Review/First Church of the Higher Elevations/Anderson, Peter//WESTERN SKIES - August 9, 2005 *** BOOK REVIEW: FIRST CHURCH OF .../Western Skies/Colorado Springs/CO/USA/11-Aug-05/… In this collection of essays, Crestone writer and editor Peter Anderson is blessedly free of greed, but his intense reverence for mountains is often punctuated by everyday worldliness. For instance, he plans a forty-day sojourn into the Henry Mountains of Utah, but cuts it to thirty-six days because he wants to see the NBA finals.

It's this sort of mixture of the supernal with the mundane that I found most engaging in this baker's dozen of contemplative pieces, all of them connected to spirituality and mountains. If there were too much mundane, it would read like a guidebook. If there were too much spirituality, it might read like a sermon, or wander off into those new-age ethereal realms beyond the comprehension of prosaic sorts like myself.

But Anderson finds the right balance. In First Church of the Higher Elevations, he prays and fasts for thirty-six days in the wilderness, works at an agricultural monastery, patronizes a sweat lodge, befriends a priest fond of Yukon Jack whiskey, and tracks down the history of "The Hermit" of Las Vegas, New Mexico, who was reputed to be able to heal the sick. Anderson explores realms beyond and within himself: "Why solitude?" he asks. "It isn't about seeking any great mystical insight or developing some out-of-the-ordinary contemplative skill. It just helps me to listen for an interior voice that is authentic and true and more likely to be found in stillness than in the chaotic mix of voices I usually hear, inwardly and outwardly, in the great flow of the day-to-day. It gives me a chance to eddy out-to spend a little time in the 'still water' where reflection is possible. I don't think Jesus walked into the desert because he expected to find God there; I think he went into solitude so that he could hear more clearly the Inward Teacher that dwells in all of us."

Anderson writes mostly from the Quaker tradition of individual inspiration amid a community of fellow believers. But he also draws on secular sources as he treks across the mountains of Colorado and Utah. He cites John Muir, Jimi Hendrix, and B.B. King. And he has a keen eye for the world around him: "As the mid-day glare obscured the canyons out east of the range, flies buzz through rising heat and winged grasshoppers crackle up then crash in their jerky mate-seeking flight. Even now, in mid-June, the sun is bright enough and strong enough to have me longing for shelter and shade and a camp near running water. But I have been looking for a while now, covering much of this alpine basin without finding that place, and the prospects are beginning to look a little grim."

Anderson is a fluid and graceful writer, but this book is not for fast reading; these essays deserve time for contemplation. In fact, this book just might be the perfect companion on the next multi-day hike you take in order to get away from it all-and ponder your own place in this world.

Book Review////Eyes On Africa: a Fifty Year Commentary/…Even the references to Quaker activities tend to perpetuate inaccuracies-for example Kagisong Centre in Mogoditshane was established by local people in 1979 and not by "British Quakers in Gaborone" in the 1970s; David Richie, who visited him in 1980 in Zambia, was not ignorant of Africa as he had run work camps beginning in the 1960s in different places (neither is indexed).

It is his story - what happened to hers? His wife was not simply a silent partner, but a professional in her own right who began her career as a resident at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda (1956-1957). They were both highly mobile, moving frequently at the end of a two-year contract. Their longest stay was in Zambia, nearly 12 years between 1977 and 1986. They had a base at a farm they had bought in Wales, and thrice they retreated there: after the coup in Uganda in 1971 to 1977, after Zambia between 1986 and 1989, and since retiring in 1999. It might have been a more interesting book if they had alternated chapters and written about their life and times together, their travels and explored their "footprints", each from their own perspective. At what point did they see things differently and when was there consensus, and why? ...


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