Thursday, January 03, 2008

In quest of the holy

I had an e-mail the other day from Robert Michael Pyle, one of his last before beginning his experiment of living off-the-grid for a year. Curiously, it came just as I was re-reading Doug Burton-Christie's marvelous account of the early Christian anchorites, The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism.

I would guess that Bob Pyle is motivated by a "quest for holiness" of a secular sort, a purer sort of life lived in proximity with simple things, in this case butterflies. Bob is an expert lepidopterist, and for the next year he intends to see as many species of butterflies as he can. He has defined his title as Overseer of Butterflies, a nonpaying job, to be sure, but then he figures he can live on very little. Nature will be his Scriptures, his anchorage an ever-changing room in some seedy motor court.

John Burroughs "John-'o-Birds," the naturalist writer and one of Bob's more illustrious predecessors, wrote: "Saints and devotees have gone into the wilderness to find God. Of course, they took God with them, and the silence and detachment enabled them to hear the still, small voice of their own souls." When Bob comes home from his sojourn in "the desert," we can expect another beautiful book of encounters with the holy. A great voice from a great soul.