The Behemoth, a sister magazine of Christianity Today, has just published an article of mine on the subject of the call of the wilderness.
Although the wilderness may appear to be an area—in the words of the 1964 US Wilderness Act—‘untrammeled by man,’ its vast expanses have long been heavily worked and populated by our cultural imaginations. The wilderness has been a site of meaning against which many human societies have articulated their identity and within which they have sought to prove themselves. Through their relationship with the wilderness, societies have preserved, revived, and articulated foundational values of peoplehood, masculinity, or national vocation.
Within my article I argue—reflecting upon the writings and actions of such figures as the Desert Fathers, the Romantics, the Transcendentalists, American imperialists—that rather than considering the wilderness merely as an uninhabited or unformed location, we should see it as a site of human and societal struggle and spiritual re-creation, a realm rich with cultural symbolism and significance. The Desert Fathers went into the wilderness to struggle and sacrifice for Christ and to do battle with demons, renewing the Church’s sense of its spiritual mission. The Romantics went to the wilderness to elevate the human spirit through communing with the sublime of nature and save man’s soul from materialism. The American imperialists went to the wilderness to masculinize its elite and to reinvigorate the national myths of rugged individualism and manifest destiny.
My piece concludes with some brief reflections upon ways in which Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness draws upon meanings that the wilderness bore within Jewish and biblical understanding and how Jesus’ perfect humanity was proved in its realm.
Read the whole thing here.
[The picture above was taken during my visit to the US in 2012. You find links to more pictures of that and other trips in my Photos and Travel page.]