A View of a Wilderness: A Review of Angela Doll Carlson’s The Wilderness Journal

The Philokalia– a collection of Orthodox spiritual texts written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries- is known for its influence, its wisdom, and its difficulty. It is the type of text that people advise to only read under the guidance of clergy, and not to read until one is prepared to think big.
WildernessJournal
In Angela Doll Carlson‘s latest book, The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia, she takes on the readings of the Philokalia, not only under a guide, but with the guidance of several others, each of whom writes an introduction to one of six featured spiritual fathers. Well-known writers and bloggers in the Orthodox world, such as Molly Maddex Sabourin and Summer Kinard, play a role in introducing the fathers to the reader.
Owning the joint context of living in the church year and season, combined with being what she refers to as being “a middle-aged American women living in the twenty-first century,” Carlson’s goal is to not only inspire others to read the Philokalia, but also show others her personal experience of reading it. According to Carlson, “This is a view of my own wilderness, words from words, in dialogue with the text itself.”
Each page of The Wilderness Journal has a theme, an excerpt from the Philokalia, and reflecting writing on the subject that is- true to the title of the book- like Carlson’s personal journal, shared with the world. In response to a quote from St. Diadochos of Photiki, Carlson gives the following reflection:
How long have I been thinking that to seek humility means to tear myself down? Make myself less than whoever stands before me? It’s not about some deficiency in me; it’s about knowing where I began, in the soil, from the earth. It’s about remembering my mortality even as I feel assurance in the eternity that lies ahead. We anchor to this earth in body, we anchor to God in spirit, and that’s a tension that either holds us upright or tears us apart.
 
Humility, perhaps, is what is needed to keep us together in that tension.
The Wilderness Journal is the type of book that, although it can be read as one narrative, should be taken a small bit at a time- not unlike the Philokalia itself. Carlson invites the reader to follow suit and create their own reflections on the quote, thus not only demonstrating the importance of the process of writing, but also inviting the reader to dive in and create their very own wilderness journal.
One does not have to be in the desert; as Carlson states in the introduction, “The wilderness is here, whether the landscape resembles desert, mountains, or rain forest, small town, subdivision, or sprawling city.”
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