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Open Theology

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“The Mass on the World” on a Winter Afternoon: Contemporary Wilderness Religious Experience and Ultimacy

Susan Power Bratton
Published Online: 2018-08-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2018-0021


Contemporary studies of wilderness spirituality are based primarily in quantitative social science, and disagree over the relative influence of shared stories and religious traditions. In a study of visitors to California’s national parks and trails, Kerry Mitchell found that backpackers reported heightened perceptions, fueled by such dichotomies as the encounter with the spectacular rather than the mundane, and with divine organization rather than human organization in wilderness. I argue wilderness experience informed only by natural scenery falls short in encountering ultimacy. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s “The Mass on the World” offers a unified rather than a fragmented vision of divine relationship to the natural and the human. Multiple readings can inform the wilderness sojourner, including a basic, open reading as a prayer shared with all nature; an environmental reading considering suffering and the act of Eucharistic offering; and a constructive reading to address dichotomies and fuse humanity and nature into an integrated cosmic future

Keywords: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; nature mysticism; wilderness; ultimacy; environmental theology; Eucharist; hiking


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About the article

Received: 2018-04-17

Accepted: 2018-06-25

Published Online: 2018-08-25

Citation Information: Open Theology, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 281–291, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2018-0021.

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© by Susan Power Bratton, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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