Saturday, December 22, 2018



Zen on the Trail

Hiking as Pilgrimage
Wisdom Publications, 2018

A couple of decades ago, author Chris Ives and I were colleagues at the University of Puget Sound . He covered Eastern religions while I taught Christian ethics. We've stayed in contact. That's how I learned, recently, that Chris, now a professor in Massachusetts, has  published Zen on the Trail.  

As I read the book this fall I appreciate it more and more. Why? Well, first, "On the trail" reminded me of nature explorations of my childhood. To get to "nature," I hiked west, up and over the hill from my neighborhood, Oakland Addition, to the headwaters of Bowers Creek, a southward-flowing creek paralleling South Orchard Street. I'd just get lost out there in a kind of childhood rapture--away from the paper route duties, school assignments and household chores. 

On these hikes I generally had some company: my pet dog, Rusty and and maybe a neighbor boy. 

This magnet of forest and flowing creek water appealed to me like the spiritual hiking Chris Ives so vividly describes. I call it a "spiritual appeal."  Why? Because in the broadest sense I immersed myself in a Reality. I didn't name it such in boyhood, but I do so now and Zen on the Trail confirms it. That's a gift.

Here's another gift. Ives' book reminded me of a conversation with my Dad, an inveterate hiker-guy himself. I describe his spiritual genre as "ardent evangelical" in the classical sense. By "classical sense," I mean open to a broad range of depictions of Reality. 

Dad told our family, with remorse, that one of his friends, Art Stanke, just never attended church.

Then one weekend, when I was in my junior high (middle school) years Dad returned from a horseback trip with Art in the Cascade mountains. Dad said something like this: "You know, Art pulled his horse to a halt at a lookout point. When I caught up with him and he was just gazing off into the canyon below and the distant peaks beyond. He sat still there for minutes. Art may not be a church-goer but I think that gazing is his type of spiritual moment."

Maybe this comment by my Dad, whose judgments I trusted then and trust still, got me to thinking of spiritual experience as something natural that happens in solitude in nature and not exclusively midst a congregation in a sanctuary.

Out of this childhood background my years have sparkled with attempts to live and relive such experiences "out on the trail." I'll recount one of the most recent. 

Late last summer, 2018, Lucy and I met with our two kids and their families and hiked from Tipsoo Lake counterclockwise around Naches Peak and back to Tipsoo. 

Photo by Ron Clausen, 2016
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International

Twenty years earlier I hike the same trail. A mile or so outbound from Tipsoo I'd entered a period of wordless meditation in connection with nature (and the God of nature? I'd say "yes"). The place: the south side of Naches Peak, about twenty yards above the trail at the base of a fifty-foot slightly concave volcanic rock wall. On the 2018 hike I recognized that very spot. On my solitary hike twenty years earlier, nature, instinct or the Spirit drew me to climb up to the base of the rock wall, to sit there and gaze. I lost myself in rapture: Rainier to the right, Cascade peaks to the south, the lakes and hills of Justice Douglas Wilderness to the east, the brown plains of Central Washington in the haze even further east, the ravens floating on up-winds in the canyon below.    

At that very spot in summer of 2018, I told my co-hikers--my wife, kids and grand-kids--that I'd appreciate their scattering some of my ashes at the base of that vertical rock wall on Naches Peak. That won't be the permanent end of my life hike, I know. Just a way station along the trail. Storms will dump rain and snow on Naches Peak and my ashes will flow down the mountainside, maybe nourishing plants or ants. Some might descend all the way to the bottom of the valley and perhaps wash down the creek into Dewey Lake. That would be a grand destiny.

All of the experiences above flow out of a person formed entirely in the Christian tradition. I found great resonance between my life experience and the wonderful passages rooted in Eastern tradition in "Zen on the Trail."

I thank Chris so much for the many insights in "Zen on the Trail." It's a well of information and resource for inspiration. 

This is my Christmas-tide post. Maybe it seems odd to celebrate Zen at Christmas. Not really, because I remember that Mother Mary and Jesus were "on the trail" when they lodged in the stable. The Wise Men from the East were "on the trail" when they approached the infant Savior in the cradle. Jesus, once out of Galilee as a teenager, lived exclusively "on the trail" for twenty years until his premature death. On-the-trail spiritual experience is greater than any of our human traditions and infuses them all.

Thus, I highly recommend the book to all hikers, especially to those who “feel something greater” than themselves, on the trail.

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At December 24, 2018 at 10:29 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

May the Great God of the Universe reveal Himself to you On the Trail.


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