Renewal in the Wilderness: A Spiritual Guide to Connecting with God in the Natural World

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While exploring wilderness wisdom from several faith traditions, you will discover how the universal experience of being present in nature can lead to startling discoveries both about God and about yourself.

John Lionberger

6 x 9, 176 pp | 978-1-59473-219-5

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God Is Waiting for You in the Wilderness

“How can I say I see divinity in the wilderness? How can I say I feel God’s presence in a chorus of loons, in the throaty chuffing of a family of otter, in the primal call-and-response howling of wolves, in the splendor of a bald eagle, in a gibbous moon’s shimmering wash of orange light on dark moving water, in the healing silence of wild places or in a day when my soul has known the amazing grace of utter peace for six straight hours? How can I say I see God in those things? But how can I say that I don’t?”

—from Chapter 1

You don’t need to spend forty years—or even forty days—in the wilderness to encounter God. This practical guide reveals the power of experiencing God’s presence in many variations of the natural world—from a backpacking trip in a truly remote wilderness to an afternoon spent in a nearby park to a single moment savored in your own backyard.

While exploring wilderness wisdom from several faith traditions—Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and more—you will discover how the universal experience of being present in nature can lead to startling discoveries both about God and about yourself. Drawing from his own significant moments in the wilderness and stories from the many people who have accompanied him on wilderness treks, John Lionberger asks probing questions and offers inspiring suggestions that will spur you to look at all aspects of the world around you from a new point of view.

“If you’ve been wondering how to find God, here’s a topo map.”

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature  and other books

“Reminds us that wilderness offers us rapture, grace and, ultimately, transcendence. May help lead us to places of holy encounter—and to a deeper commitment to preserving those wild spaces.”

Sy Montgomery, author of The Wild Out Your Window

“Reading this book made my fingers tingle and the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The physical experience of wilderness strips us down to the basic elements of body and soul. And when our spiritual nerve endings are exposed, we find ... God. Start this journey today.”

Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, president and professor, Chicago Theological Seminary

“These musings evince a passion for fierce landscapes, drawing on a wide range of religious and spiritual traditions. It makes you want to shoulder a pack and head for the mountains.”

Belden C. Lane, professor of theological studies, Saint Louis University;
author of Landscapes of the Sacred

“Documents and advocates for the power of the raw, close communication with the divine that is frequently fostered far from the madding crowds. Lionberger has an encompassing reach, giving voice to atheists, agnostics and the simply soul-weary, as well as believers from many of the world’s great faith traditions…. Probing and provocative questions at the end of each chapter clear paths to self-discovery.”

Publishers Weekly


What makes Renewal in the Wilderness: A Spiritual Guide to Connecting with God in the Natural World different from, say, the writings of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Edward Abbey or others who found God’s presence in the wilderness?

Well, let me start by saying I’m thrilled to be mentioned in the same breath with those people, so thank you. But what I believe is different about my writing is that I’ve tried to look briefly at the global history of searching for the holy in the wilderness to show how universal the impulse has always been. As a result of the people from the many and vastly different faiths who’ve joined me on trips—and the very common experiences they’ve had despite their cultural and religious differences—I’ve come to believe that those common experiences give us a language with which we can talk about God without shedding blood.

Do you think people who’ve never been in natural wilderness of any kind can have the kinds of experiences your book talks about?

Absolutely, yes! Those are almost always the people who are most profoundly affected by the experience. It’s so different from anything they’ve ever done, which makes it so effective in getting them out of their heads and into the experience, that newcomers often feel like they’ve shed old shells—like beetles, if you don’t mind the analogy—and entered into a vastly different, bigger, and better understanding of who they are, what they’re capable of, and how deep their resources are. They usually leave with a much more personal vision of God. They usually feel connected to life in ways they’ve never experienced. I don’t think things get more spiritual than that.

What advice do you have for those people who haven't had a natural wilderness experience?

Dare to do it. Don’t let inertia or fear stop you. It’s only when we go beyond our comfort zones that we can see how much bigger and more vibrant we are than we thought, and how much green and juicy stuff life has to offer.

I know it’s a cliché to say that life is not a dress rehearsal, but it’s true, isn’t it, at least as far as we know? So, what are we going to do with our single, magnificent time on earth? When we’re old, what opportunities are we going to look back on and regret that we didn’t seize?