In the interest of full disclosure, I should open this review by admitting some bias. I’m one of the three people featured in Encounters in Nature, and as such I have warm feelings about it. However, I do not receive any payment or profit from Encounters, and I was skeptical when the idea was first suggested – so I want to provide a review of what turned out to be an amazing product.
The reason I was skeptical is because of the format. Encounters in Nature is what I can only describe as an audio ebook. That is, it contains over an hour of audio broken up into segments with pictures and text in between. The text provides a great introduction, a variety of anecdotes and insights, and some of the original work of the featured personalities. When author B. T. Newberg first told me he planned to record a conversation in the woods, I couldn’t really picture how it would become a book. But when I saw the finished product, I was blown away.
The story of that night
The backstory is simple. B. T. (founder of Humanistic Paganism), Urban Haas (an oungan or Vodou priest) and myself (a rogue priest developing the Heroic Life) had planned a camping trip. Realizing that not everyone is balls-out about roughing it like I am, we stationed ourselves at a two-room cabin owned by B. T.’s family. What ensued was three days of the finest conversation I’ve ever been privy to.
There were gods and spirits. There were heroes and villains. There were some of our most vulnerable personal moments, shared with the breathy trust that we were among brothers. It’s not that deep conversation or man-time is anything new – but it happened in seclusion, with the greatest philosophers I know. And somehow, it took a shape of its own.
So on the second night, B. T. set up his carefully-tested and fully-charged recording equipment. It was almost comical, seeing him connect cords to his Macbook on a log beside the fire. We didn’t judge; we’d done crazier things on sheer determination many times. Soon it was dark and the mic was ready.
What the ebook offers
The audio starts with B. T. inviting each of us to share a little about our respective spiritual paths. What do a rogue priest, an oungan, and a Humanistic Pagan have in common, he asks? “Nature, of course.”
The dialogue proceeds from the sharing of paths to a discussion of how nature intersects spirituality. From there it becomes story time, each of us recounting our own experiences of being dramatically changed by nature. There’s much questioning and gentle ribbing as we discuss the idea of going back to the wild, and what it truly means.
All of this is embedded in a 70-page digital book with good layout and an evocative set of pictures, mostly real photos from our trip. When I saw the finished product I couldn’t believe B. T. had put it together in scarcely a week, a testament to his work ethic.
Encounters in Nature is made for anyone who enjoys spiritual discussion without pulpit-pounding rhetoric. It’s a candid dialogue between three devotees of three very different paths, exploring one of the greatest forces to shape the history of religion: nature itself.
Encounters will anger readers with a strict sense of faith, and provoke those with an interest in exploring outside their own own beliefs.
If that’s you, I’d recommend it even if I weren’t one of the voices on the audio.
Drew Jacob is a priest of many gods, a seasoned nonprofit professional, a writer, an observer and all too frequently a student of his own misadventures. He follows the Heroic Path: the idea that the highest goal in life is to live gloriously, to distinguish oneself through one’s deeds, to be clever and brave and become known for it – to use the moments of life to leave a lasting and worthy impression on the world. He is the author of Rogue Priest and the ebook Walk Like a God: How to Have Spiritual Moments With No Church and No Dogma. Currently he is in preparation for the Great Adventure, a walk across two continents from Minnesota to Brazil.
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