Cover image for The desert pilgrim : en route to mysticism and miracles
The desert pilgrim : en route to mysticism and miracles
Swander, Mary.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking Compass, [2003]

Physical Description:
332 pages ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
BL73.S93 A3 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Mary Swander was a lapsed Catholic content with the solitude and tenuous spirituality of a life tied to the Iowa prairie and its seasons. But when a car accident left her paralyzed and in chronic pain with no medical cure in sight, she was forced to look inside herself for strength and for meaning. In The Desert Pilgrim she chronicles her miraculous physical recovery and her even more astonishing restoration of faith in the modern world. It is when she arrives to teach at the University of New Mexico that Mary's journey begins in earnest. In Albuquerque she encounters Father Sergei, a Russian Orthodox monk whose barrio church is hidden away on the once-proud Route 66, now the terrain of crack dealers and the homeless. She meets a curandera, "Lu," an herbal healer whose little pharmacy's first owner rode with Pancho Villa. Together these two will lead her to confront her growing distrust of medical and spiritual authority, and her own dark night of the soul. Evocatively and reflectively written, The Desert Pilgrim weaves together history, herbal medicine, physical healing, and what it means-in this modern age-to believe

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

This nonfiction memoir of a chronically ill poet who rediscovers her Catholic faith and perceives its healing power reads like a cross between Kathleen Norris and Carlos Castaneda. Swander, an Iowa poet who developed a paralyzing neurological condition when her car was hit by a drunk driver, weaves family history and an introduction to historic Catholic mystics into a tale of her recovery from illness when she journeys from snowbound Iowa to the desert of New Mexico as a visiting professor. She meets two "everyday mystics"-a Russian Orthodox priest named Father Sergei, whose theology has a discernible Buddhist accent, and a Hispanic herbal healer named Lu. Both tend to her body and soul as they help her to recover. The author writes movingly and keenly about the death of her mother from cancer, and her details of landscape and situation are lively in their particularity: a yapping pack of Chihuahuas, the lusty zucchini growing in Father Sergei's garden. Swander's language of faith is more hesitant as she searches for its embodiment in her lived experience. The timeless Christian allegory of pilgrimage to belief is freshly rendered. This poet-pilgrim joins a literary tradition of others before her who journeyed through the dark nights of doubt to the convinced light of faith. This is a beautifully written book. (Aug. 25) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The "healing" in Swander's previous memoir, Out of This World: A Journey of Healing, concerned her severe allergies and eventual reconnection to nature through organic gardening and living alongside Amish neighbors. In this new work, Swander recounts her recovery from a spinal injury and reconnection to faith and spirituality. A car accident began the sequence of events that left her in chronic pain from transverse myelitis. With her doctors providing little relief or hope, she accepted a visiting faculty position in New Mexico, where encounters with a Russian Orthodox monk and a local curandera opened her to new ways of seeing herself and her injuries. Swander evocatively intertwines her emotional and physical healings, honestly portraying both her hesitancies and her wonder. Her writing is strongest when she is dealing with the natural environment. The narrative flags somewhat in her accounts of Christian mystics but is balanced by her ability to convey the essences of her two contemporary spiritual guides. Recommended for collections where spiritual autobiographies are popular.-Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.