Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 22, 2009

Nature Boy and The Mennonites

I wrote late last week to inform MT readers about the upcoming “Men and Nature” Richard Rohr conference I am helping out with in Wauconda in a couple of weeks. (Sat. Oct. 4 – click title above for details, as registration is still open, now at 100+, and price seems reasonable)
The challenging but crucial role that nature and the outdoors play within spirituality, mysticism, literature (especially poetry), and the human experience has been an issue dogging me for 15 years or more, at least since my first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. I think I’ve been up there a total of seven times. Minnesotans –both those still there and those I have met elsewhere — are some of my favorite people on the planet. Sure, they elected Jesse “The Body” Ventura for governor once, but then they redeemed themselves by putting former SNL writer and Stuart Smalley creator, Senator Al Franken, in Congress last fall. Minnesota just encourages thinking “outside the box”, I suppose.
I’ve been to the boundary Waters Canoe Area (or Quetico, if you’re Canadian) about five times with various Chicago friends in the summers of 1995-1999, once more a few years later with one friend and some randomly-matched Iowa fathers and sons (also Mennonites), and the last time for a “work detail” during Spring Break 2007. That last one was to fix a crumbling food prep building in the base camp/ministry site run by Wilderness Wind, the sponsor and guide/gear-provider for my the previous canoe/hiking trips. It was, like mid-April, and on our second day there it snowed about three inches. I went with my son Graham, my sister Karen and her two boys, and a couple other Chicago guys and one woman were also helping to fix the old building with lots of character but wobbly floors.
More recently, with some of the ecumenical men’s spirituality work, I’ve been spending more time again in the woods or on the water, with other men especially. We get and give something to each other out there that mainstream culture –even most church cultures– rarely provide. And being out in the wild, away from our usual rules and constrictive roles, we are more free to be ourselves, and to listen. I’ve even re-encountered a few Mennonites, including one who had been to Wilderness Wind.
So where’s all this going? I don’t know. I’m just reminiscing, I guess. Because of the nature and ministry stuff on my mind with the upcoming conference. Because of the really rowdy time I had out in the local forest preserve with Jesus and my dog this morning. Or maybe just recommending you look into Wilderness Wind, take a group of six to twelve people (men or women, boys or girls), up there next spring or summer.
You never know who you’ll meet out there. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wolf? … Maybe even some new vision of yourself, reflected in the rippling waters of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

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