The Desert Pilgrim

9781888160338, 296pgs

This re-release of a classic includes a new Afterword, a new icon cover just for the book, as well as improved design. All in order to keep this vital and important exploration of mysticism and miracles alive and well.

Injured in a car accident, Swander made a pilgrimage to New Mexico where she sought the aid of traditional Hispanic and Native American healers in her recovery. In Albuquerque, she encountered 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. In his backyard, Father Sergei grew herbs for the curandera, Lu, in the pharmacy across the street. Lu’s herbal cures are legendary. These two healers led Swander through the “dark night of the soul” to look inside herself and to the Divine for strength and meaning. Lu took Swander on a trip into the New Mexico landscape to harvest herbs and return with a more profound sense of desert spirituality.

From Publishers Weekly: “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.”