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The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  292 ratings  ·  52 reviews
In the tradition of Kathleen Norris, Terry Tempest Williams, and Thomas Merton, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes explores the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.
Interweaving a memoir of his mother's long struggle with Alzheimer's and cancer, meditati
Paperback, 282 pages
Published February 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press (first published 1998)
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May 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I geek out over Belden Lane's work. Truly, I do.

I read this book slowly, taking small bites and sometimes smiling, laughing out loud, tearing up, or just nodding, all the while finding myself looking around for someone else that I could show it to, share it with, and point out pieces and passages within it. Most of the time, I couldn't, and when I did find a listening ear, I found that most of what Lane is discussing that I was trying to rephrase is more experiential, and indeed, word-stripping
Gary Reger
Aug 11, 2020 rated it liked it
As Lane recognizes, this book is unusual. Lane was an academic of theological and American studies at St. Louis University. (He's now retired, I believe.) So on the one hand, "The Solace of Fierce Places" is a typical academic's book, rich in research and reading, packed with analysis and argument. I found myself marking almost every footnote as containing a reference to look up, a book or article to read. At the same time, though, "Solace" presents Lane's struggle to come to terms with the deat ...more
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This man is amazing. He goes back and forth between the desolation of his mother's battle with illness and his times of solitude in monasteries around the globe. The writing is amazing .. a bit academic at times but still wonderful. I learned so much about the dark night of the soul from Belden Lane. ...more
Reread as Lenten discipline and just as rich as the first time through. This time of coronavirus can be interpreted as a wilderness experience spiritually...this book helps embrace those types of experiences.

This is a wonderfully well-written book that I found very helpful in sorting out issues in my own soul. The author weaves an exploration of the tradition of Christian desert and mountain spirituality with descriptions and experiences of different actual fierce landscapes such as Mount Sinai,
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: christianity, prayer
I felt there was too much repetition, not a kind of spiral movement by which more and more of the author's thought is disclosed, but mere repetition of the fundamental (and unique, it seems) thought: "desert teaches abandonment". I liked the chapter on desert fathers most, and also the dialectics of the indifference (to all that is not important) and attentiveness (to the very few things that are important). Well; the subject is immensely worthy, as any pratictioner of silent prayer would confir ...more
Aug 09, 2020 added it
Shelves: theology
Part survey of wilderness in religious traditions, part theology, part memoir of grief. Parts were very easy to read and, others were very hard (or even dull). Many of the points were either subtle or non-existent at times. That said, there are still parts I'm mulling over. ...more
Sean Post
Nov 04, 2015 rated it did not like it
Lane explores the parallels between the desolate places of our world and the desolate moments in our lives. Both are marked by uncomfortable silences. In the moments that we most desperately long to hear from God sometimes there is silence. This much I can affirm.

Yet Lane's theology collapses on itself. While I am comfortable reading many mystics, Lane pushes for a spirituality that transcends words (and possibly even religions?...) Certainly there are elements of God that are beyond knowing, b
David A-S
Jan 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Reading this is almost like taking a continuing education course in Spirituality and Self-Care for the Modern person. Lane never makes himself out to be a spiritual master, but he references about 50 people whom he would give that label. The reader journey's with Lane then into his own spiritual landscape as informed by all those encountered in his studies. Moreover, the depth of spiritual growth he seeks is so much harder to arrive at and rich to search for than much of today's pop-spirituality ...more
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Upon finishing The Solace of Fierce Landscapes I immediately wanted to read it again. Belden's work starts out very academic - he is a professor - but his meticulous research woven with story-telling ultimately reveals the power, depth, intricacies, nuances, and inspirations of mountain and desert symbolism in the Christian tradition, and in a universally spiritual sense that is accessible to all. I finished this book feeling like I had been given sips of water along the way of the long desert j ...more
Leslie Klingensmith
Jul 05, 2012 rated it really liked it

Liked this book a lot and could see reading it over and over again at various stages of life. It is, however, very heavy. There were a few times when I really wished for some levity. I kept on, though, because that seems to be one of the main points of the book, to push on even when it is hard or when it is arid. Was ultimately glad I did.
Susan Halvor
I loved this book, and how Belden Lane drew deeply from the deserts and mountains, but also from the Mystics... From the Desert Mothers and Fathers, to C.S. Lewis to Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams to Wendell Berry to Thomas Merton. And I'm continuing to roll around the idea of an indifferent God who is also wildly filled with love. There is so much here. ...more
Sep 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Meditations on wilderness, prayer, self, God, and death. Written as his own mother was dying in a nursing home, and as he faces the death of his father, when he was just a child, for truly the first time. A modern companion to the writings of the ancient desert father and mothers.
May 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Begun. Paused. Maybe I'll get to it. Once you get apophasis there's not a lot left. ...more
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dense, difficult read at times, like traversing the landscapes described.
Angela Joyce
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faith-in-general
This needs to be read slowly, in quiet moments of solitude... and it is worth taking the time to do this.
May 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book combined an in depth study of desert spirituality with the author's own personal journey. I liked it, but it's not for the faint of heart. ...more
Harry Allagree
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was for me an exceedingly rich book, one which bears much more quiet reflection. It wouldn't even have come on my "radar", had not the young rector of our parish joined in a backpack tour of "fierce landscapes" in the Southwest with a whole group of other women clergy last year. Part of their priming for the trip was to read, among other material, this book by Belden Lane. The rector mentioned it in the parish newsletter, & I'm certainly grateful that she did.

Lane's description of what he's
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This scholarly treatment of meditative spirituality benefits from the author’s extensive reading of Christian apophatic traditions (ascetics.) Lane draws counter-intuitive conclusions about the benefits of “nothing” to the person who seeks a closer walk with God. He also draws on his travel experiences in the deserts and mountains of North America, Middle East, and Europe. I found the book to be helpful in opening my mind to new ways of understanding our relationship to God. I liked what he reve ...more
Tamara Murphy
In The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, author Belden C. Lane creates a physical setting of the desert for the spiritual work that takes place when we seek a holy detachment from all of the distractions created by external circumstances of our everyday life. Lane repeatedly warns against the temptation to romanticize the monastic work done in silence and solitude. Referring to the desert as a “geography of abandonment”, sets the stage as the place “where one confronts one’s inevitable loss of contro ...more
Jodie Pine
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved the ideas in this book and was intrigued by the author's descriptions and experiences. The way he journeyed alongside his mother dying with cancer was relevant to me as my son now has cancer.

"The desert practices of contemplative prayer abandons, on principle, all experiences of God or the self. It simply insists that being present before God, in a silence beyond words, is an end in itself.

Joined in the silence of prayer to a God beyond knowing, I no longer have to scramble to sustain a
Samuel Moss
I expected this book to be an accessible/academic history of desert spirituality and monastic life, and there was some of this, but it was a bit more self-helpy and personal that I liked. He does a lot of theorizing too, which felt thin. I felt that he never went into great depth about the desert fathers or other traditions and seems to assume a lot of shared knowledge. Also significantly focused on the judeo-christian tradition, which is not surprising, but again, a little disappointing.
Gail Richmond
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Belden Lane is a superlative writer. That said, the text of Fierce Landscapes is dense and slow reading, which makes it all the better to re-read passages, meditate, and learn.
In preparation and reverie for my New Mexico pilgrimage to Ghost Ranch and Christ in the Desert Monastery, an excellent choice.
Jennifer Gyuricska
Dec 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a tough book to finish but only because I couldn't read without doing some deep thinking. My book looks like a hedgehog it's got so many sticky notes in it.

The book is a meditation on grief, but not just death or suffering. It's about how we must empty ourselves of ego and expectation to truly see our lives as more than a series of details.
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved his meditations and thoughts on deserts and mountains (and his curating of pretty much every other writer/thinker/theologians thoughts on the subject as well). I did not so much love his story with his mom. Overall I liked the format though and found lots of gems.
Jul 08, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was recommended to me by a wise friend who is an author. Full disclosure it was a stretch for me. I had to look up words and read it slowly in chunks. But it was good to push myself to read out of my comfort zone and learn new thinking.
Todd Putney
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite writers on spiritual themes. Like his other books this one will be kept near by.
Sam Eman
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one to savor, just a page or two at time. Excellent, even provocative, reflections on finding God in barren places.
Aaron Terrazas
Sep 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Weird, wandering, and overall too religious for my taste, but in fleeting moments, hauntingly beautiful. Worth reading.
Oct 11, 2018 rated it liked it
I found it quite biblical and steeped in religion.
John Wills
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very deep, very moving, an educated perspective on grief.
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