The Wisdom of Wilderness – Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature by Gerald G. May : Book Review

5 years ago I wasn’t ready to read this book. I was at a different place on my journey.  A place where phrases like “enriched by insights from Eastern religions” would have sent up red flags, raised an alarm in my pharisaical soul and brought about a slamming of the city gates to keep out the new-age-enemy of what I saw as a faith that needed defending and protecting. In those 5 years my expanding view of the love of God has penetrated, softened and enlarged my heart, deepened my intimacy with him and disabused me of these silly notions along with any agenda I may have clung to. I’m coming to believe that this Abba who loves me more than I could possibly imagine has secreted away in people of all ethnicities (and yes, even faith systems or lack thereof) facets of himself and pieces of his story for you and I to discover. Sort of a cosmic game of hide and seek. Because “God likes it when we place nice together,” as my friend Tom Conlon once said. If you’re at the place in the path where your guard is already going up in reaction to this statement maybe you’re not quite ready for this book…but then again, maybe you are.

From the foreword by Parker J. Palmer:

“Jerry May knew he was dying as he wrote this book. He gathered up all the life he could hold with words… as wild creatures gather food against a hard winter…and left us a book so well stocked with love and wisdom, tears and laughter, healing and hope, it can help all of us winter through.”

These poetic and heart-felt words say more about this book than I could ever attempt to. Let’s hear some more.  This time May’s own words from the preface:

“I am sick now. The prospect of my death is continually before me. My body is frail, my energy always at the edge of exhaustion. At the same time I am wilder than I’ve ever been before. My soul basks in wilderness, and I am grateful.”

Based on these excerpts one might be led to believe The Wisdom of Wilderness to be a depressing dirge, a dying man’s morose reflecting on the end of his days.  Allow me to dispel this misunderstanding without hesitation.  This is anything but. May skillfully and poetically weaves together a lifetime of adventure, laughter and wisdom into a raw, honest and triumphant ode to life as it is meant to be lived. He beautifully relates the healing God provides through wilderness (a healing that I myself continue to experience) while catching you completely off guard with irreverent stories that had me buckled over in spasms of gut-wrenching belly-laughs. He and his little boy’s encounter with a Korean Zen Master alone make this book worth the delightful read.

I can’t recommend The Wisdom of Wilderness highly enough. Though the library provided me with the version I read, I plan to purchase my own copy to place on the shelf beside John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Annie Dillard, C.S. Lewis and others. They’ll find themselves in good company.  I’d have to guess they already have.

The gist:

The Wisdom of Wilderness is Gerald G. May’s swansong. This wonderfully written account of the healing nature provided for him through his beloved Appalachian Mountains deserves a place among the classics. You’ll laugh, cry (and laugh until you cry) and long to spend more time in the wilderness he so beautifully portrays. You may, like me, not agree with all of his theology but you’ll be moved by a life lived from the heart.  And who knows, maybe we’ll find ourselves a little further down the path. This book epitomizes what All Who Wander is about. Highly recommend.

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One Response to “The Wisdom of Wilderness – Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature by Gerald G. May : Book Review”

  • Paul May:

    Thank you for your beautiful review. This really was my dad’s swansong, and I would love to see it in more people’s hands.

    Paul

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