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First Church of the Higher Elevations: Mountains, Prayer, and Presence

From the Foreword by Paul A. Lacey

The book has a clear trajectory. It begins with Recollection, goes on to Exploration, and concludes in Home Ground. Another way of seeing its shape is that the book starts with “Ground of Being” and ends on “Home Ground,” in an extended meditation which breaks open the catch-all phrase “homeland security” to reflect on its constituent parts– Home...Land...Security. But we don’t have to stay on the beaten path, for Anderson invites us to go off the track, to double back over familiar ground and savor the accumulated experiences of many trips. Some sections are like to-scale Geological Survey maps; others like medieval maps to the Holy Land which figure the heart’s longing more than correct distances. There are even some quick back-of-the-envelope sketches showing how to get home from here.

This book explores–a word which literally means to cry out, and it implores–a word which means to pray but literally means crying in. I am reminded that St. John of the Cross gives us two interconnected prose works to explicate his inner quest, The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul. Ascent and descent; inward and outward; dark abyss before celestial light. Peter Anderson tells us he has two longings, for a dwelling place of the Spirit and for a place in which to ground it. This sends me back to Paul Tillich, whose description of God as “the creative and abysmal ground of being ” glosses so much of Peter Anderson’s accounts of “the Big Empty,” terrifying vastness, the hovering dangers of wildness, peril from armed fugitives, cabin fever, deadness and despair which poison solitude.

But that makes First Church of the Higher Elevation sound far too dark and serious. It is also joyous and funny. Peter Anderson is a good companion on a climb, with a lot of resources in his pack. His companions include John Muir, Jack Kerouac, Thomas Merton, Han Shan, Douglas Steere, Gary Snyder, Carl Jung, Wendell Berry, his wife Grace and daughter Rosalea, as well as Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, John Coltrane, B.B. King. Sometimes the wilderness rocks. Sometimes there is beer in the cooler.

Paul A. Lacey is Emeritus Professor of English at Earlham College, author of The Inner War: Forms and Themes in Recent American Poetry, and Growing Into Goodness: Essay on Quaker Education. He edited the poet Denise Levertov's posthumous volume, This Great Unknowing: Last Poems and her Selected Poems.

What others have said about First Church of the Higher Elevations:

“This is a book about the Great Mystery.
It will fill you with wonder and awe..."
–Art Goodtimes—poet, Telluride Watch columnist

“...This book feels eclectically and profoundly American."
–Greg Wolfe—Image: Journal of Religion and the Arts

“As it was for John Muir, the world is, for Peter, sacramental.”
–David Romtvedt—Wyoming Poet Laureate

“His journeys reveal the grace...in those luminous high places.”
–Susan Tweit—Author, Naturalist

“This book reminds readers of the innate connection we have with high...places... A fine companion for a hike through wild country.”
–Margaret Pettis—poet, editor The Lynx