Academic Book Review of Desert Spirituality for Men

Book Review from Anglican Theological Review

Volume 104, Issue 4, November 2022, pp.507-508

Desert Spirituality for Men. By Brad Karelius. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2022. 180

pp. $21.00 (paperback), $36.00 {cloth).

Brad Karelius, an Episcopal priest and professor, has provided us with two distinct enter­prises in this brief volume. Each is valuable in its own way. The first two-thirds of the book are generous memoirs honoring important relationships in the author’s life. Some are intimate as within in his family, and others are inanimate desert landscapes and Iron Curtain adventures. Most are formal and informal relationships ranging from spiritual directors to what the Celtic tradition would call “soul friends.” The memoir section is generous because Karelius allows us to see only the rough topography of his life but not the details. His focus is on others and the difference they have made in his life. In this sense, the book is more about chemistry than accomplishments, receiving rather than giv­ ing. The effect is to keep the stories grounded in his personal experiences of others with­ out the reliance on personal pronouns that characterize so many personal reflections.

The undergirding of these accounts is an impressive personal discipline on the part of the author. He maintained an active parish ministry, a life-long marriage, a son with spe­cial needs, and significant engagement in the community which is impressive. During it all, he prioritized long and fiuitful relationships with spiritual directors, frequent retreats both individual and directed, maintained daily prayer, and nurtured friendships with reg­ ularly recuning gatherings. This level of engagement in a busy world of interruptions presents an ongoing challenge that requires discipline and a readiness to start over again and again. Desert Spirituality for Men bears witness to the importance of these aspects of secular and spiritual life but does not indicate how one might hold them together. Readers, both men and women, will be readily drawn to the richness of Karelius’ experiences but left to their own devices about developing the discipline that is behind them.

The latter third of the book addresses the resources available to men seeking a deeper and more satisfying spiritual life. According to Karelius, the critical thinking of the enlightenment, the Protestant work ethic, the demands of capitalism, and the American

.emphasis on individuality have encouraged men to become “buffered,” a term coined by Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century to describe a developed immunity to the reli­ gious experience. Writings from Augustine to Richard Rohr are offered to shed light on the common state of spirituality for men.

In response, the author introduces several traditional forms of spiritual discipline. These include Praying the Monastic Hours, the Ignatian Examen, contemplative and centering prayer, and spiritual retreats. The presentations are sensitive to the unique fea­ tures of male spirituality. The psalms are given a special place because their honest intro­spection challenges the masculine tendency to discount feelings. Karelius makes it clear in his memoir that he has learned much about his own spirituality from women and encourages his readers to seek “opportunities for connection with the spiritual lives of women” (p. 123). He consistently underlines the power of nature and time spent in its embrace as a vital component of the spiritual life. Kareluis has a poet’s eye for landscape and an artist’s sense of its messages declaring that what he found in nature was a “sensual backdrop for revealing the holy, God reaching out to me” (p. 147). The book concludes by sharing the spiritual work of a three-day desert retreat that would have value in a variety of natural settings.

Desert Spirituality for Men is not the “How To” book the title implies. It is, however, a wise telling of a spiritual journey and its rewards. Those who want to know how to begin can follow the author’s example of seeking and maintaining relationship with mentors, guides, and soul friends.


Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, USA

About fatherbrad1971

Professor of Philosophy and World Religions at Saddleback Community College, Mission Viejo, CA. Episcopal priest since 1971 in Diocese of Los Angeles (retired). Owner of Desert Spirit Press, publishers of books on desert spirituality. Author, "The Spirit in the Desert: PIlgrimages to Sacred Sites in the Owens Valley." and "Encounters with the World's Religions: the Numinous on Highway 395". Memberships: Nevada Archaeological Association, Western Writers of America, California Cattlemen's Association, American Association of University Professors, Outdoor Writers of California, American Academy of Religion, Western Folklore Association.
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1 Response to Academic Book Review of Desert Spirituality for Men

  1. Nerice Kaufman says:

    What an insightful review! Having read the book it was so easy to follow and resonate with the reviewers comments. Loved the books insights, stories and practices… for men and women as well. He is also a talented storyteller!

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