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

Susan Power Bratton 1
  • 1 Baylor University, Waco, United States of America


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

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Open Theology is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal that welcomes contributions written in English addressing religion in its various forms and aspects: historical, theological, sociological, psychological, and other.