When we think of people who might be called mystics, we are highly likely to think of the "professionally religious" such as priests, nuns, rabbis, gurus, imams, and monks of all kinds. That's part of the problem. It makes mysticism seem unattainable and unimportant to all but a few, when in fact it is a vital part of our human heritage, and recovering a natural, everyday mysticism will lead us to a sustainable future much more smoothly than any technological or political program.
Sigurd F. Olson, who was born 112 years ago today, was at heart an everyday mystic. If you read my first blog post about him, you'll understand why. He dedicated his life to that inner, spiritual journey that he called "the search for meaning," and as a popular nature writer and tireless advocate for wilderness preservation he became an apostle of awe, a witness for wonder.
Sigurd saw how the pressures and temptations of modern life were cutting people off from each other and from the world around them, and at the same time chopping their spiritual roots. He remained confident until his death in 1982 that anyone who desires can recover a sense of meaning and connectedness, and that the most direct way to go about this is to reconnect with creation. By spending time in silence and solitude in the midst of natural surroundings, it is normal to begin to experience not simply beauty, but the mystery behind that beauty, which leads to awe and wonder, gratitude and joy. These are at the heart of everyday mysticism, and they are tremendously countercultural.
So much has changed since Sigurd died three decades ago: the rise of the personal computer, email, the Internet, social media, cell phones, and so much more that has made many things easier, some things harder, and life as a whole busier and more stressful. Our disconnectedness continues to increase, and so does our unsustainable pace of using up the world's resources and dangerously altering its climate. What would Sigurd say if he were alive?
That, in essence, is the key question at the heart of a documentary-in-progress named after Sigurd's first book, The Singing Wilderness. As Sigurd's biographer, I've had the pleasure and privilege of being involved in this project of filmmaker Peter Olsen. His previous work has appeared on ABC, PBS, the Discovery Channel, the Sundance Channel, Showtime, and others. What makes me most happy, though, is that Peter gets Sigurd Olson. We have talked a lot about the project over the past few years, and I am excited that rather than a purely biographical approach he is focusing on our current times through the lens of Sigurd's everyday mysticism, or what I have also called his wilderness theology.
Even better, Peter's gifts remind me of Sigurd's but for a different medium. I have often compared Sigurd to a watercolor painter, for he painted word pictures with a broad brush that captured the joyful yet abstract feelings of true communion with nature. Peter, I think, captures the same sense of mystery, awe, wonder and joy through his medium of film. If you looked at yesterday's clip, I think you'll already agree. The clip below, which shows more beautiful scenery along with some interviewing, will give you some more insights about Sigurd, and also about the film. You also should take a look at the film's website.
Finally, you might want to check out my Sigurd F. Olson website. Happy birthday, Sig!