Front I’m Moving Forward On: Wilderness Spirituality


My hope is that  chaplaincy training will give me a titled professional container for my life as a spiritual worker. My thought is that the wilderness spirituality training, along with the study of death, could be seen as the drink in the cup of chaplaincy.

I am a Jew, and this is forward in my spiritual life  and personality. I pray often, and often in Hebrew, and when I do I face east  toward Jerusalem as best I can (my sense of direction has improved from this over the years). To paraphrase Mae West, when choosing between two evils, I like to include the Torah in my thinking about the choice. That doesn’t mean I’m a great scholar or that I always take the high road. But the thought, and prayer, is there.

But I’m other things besides a Jew–I’m a Californian, left-handed, a white 50-year old man who is human, a mammal, alive. As  Zelda points out, each of us has a name, and it’s different for who is saying it and where you meet us . At some point it would be good fro me to write about why I’m studying as an interfaith chaplain and not specifically a Jewish one, but for now let me just give the broad answer that the first levels of my sympathy are for the Reality in front of me and for the humans around me.

It’s my belief, my faith, that we humans are one, echad, with the natural world around us, and part of the tikkun olam, the healing of the world, that each of us can do is to surrender our selves back to nature, over and over again, onto G_D’s alter of each moment.

And thus Wilderness Spirituality. We are always in the wilderness, always immersed in Big Nature, and about the only thing we have any control over, I believe, is our efforts to stay awake to all this or not.

After hearing the medical director talk about School of Lost Borders and desert rights of passage during my first hospice volunteer training, it had stayed in my mind as a thing I wanted to do, and in 2013 I finally went to Big Pine, California in the Owens Valley. I sat with a group for four days, each of us clarifying our intentions, spent four days alone, fasting and staring in the Inyo Mountains, and then four days with the group again reintegrating.

A full description of this requires its own post, but enough said here that it was a precious practice, and I came away with a learning about the feel, the taste, the quality of each hour, and how time is a characteristic of the wilderness, and the world. This was the catalyst event for me, and what brought me, a year+ later, to these life changes that I write about.

So professionally, what does this mean? While for the chaplaincy component I’m applying for CPEs, I want to have wilderness rights of passage as a key part of my toolkit as a chaplain, even though I imagine that I rarely will be taking people to what we traditionally think of as “wilderness.” I am starting a year-long training as a vision quest guide with Rites of Passage, a program that has been around for many years and is based out of Santa Rosa, California, near my hometown of Petaluma. By the grace of G_D and the generosity of my wife and daughter, I’ll be going on my second vision quest in November, followed up in December with a five-day “Medicine Wheel” training, also in the southern desert.