The Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles

Overview

In this exquisite memoir, critically acclaimed writer Mary Swander recounts her extraordinary trek from suffering to emotional, physical, and spiritual recovery. After a car accident left her almost completely paralyzed and in chronic pain with no medical cure in sight, Swander—a lapsed Catholic, without any family to speak of—headed for New Mexico in search of the alternative medicine that the region is known for. Amid the stark beauty of the desert, she meets two unusual healers: Father Sergei, a Russian ...

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2004 Soft Cover New This book is new. 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. Read more Show Less

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Overview

In this exquisite memoir, critically acclaimed writer Mary Swander recounts her extraordinary trek from suffering to emotional, physical, and spiritual recovery. After a car accident left her almost completely paralyzed and in chronic pain with no medical cure in sight, Swander—a lapsed Catholic, without any family to speak of—headed for New Mexico in search of the alternative medicine that the region is known for. Amid the stark beauty of the desert, she meets two unusual healers: Father Sergei, a Russian Orthodox monk who helps restore her faith, and Lu, a curandera, whose herbal remedies help restore her body. Using her own transcendent experiences, Swander weaves an investigation into the history of healing and such mystics as Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, and Hildegard of Bingen. Beautifully written, The Desert Pilgrim shows readers how to restore their faith in the modern world— and how to believe in miracles again.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Mary Swander loved her solitary life on the Iowa prairie. But when a car accident leaves her partially paralyzed, her chronic pain unresponsive to medication, she is virtually helpless and must depend on the care of a team of friends to help her through the frozen winter. Offered a position to teach at the University of New Mexico, she grabs it, hopeful that the warmer, drier climate may do her some good.

Ensconced in Albuquerque, Swander, a lapsed Catholic, tentatively begins to reconnect with her lost faith through talks with a Russian Orthodox monk. Father Sergei's church is a small oasis of peace and beauty on a stretch of Route 66 that harbors crack dealers, gangs, and the homeless. Swander also seeks out alternative methods of treatment, enlisting the support of Lu, an herbal healer who refuses payment.

The combination of Lu's herbs and Father Sergei's chats begins to have a miraculous effect, not only strengthening Swander physically but reawakening her spirit as well. As Lu reminds her, "Faith doesn't mean that everything will always be good in life. That's luck. Faith means you'll always be connected wherever life takes you."

With this poetic look at pain, acceptance, faith, and the unknown, Mary Swander has given readers a real gift. (Fall 2003 Selection)

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. (Aug. 25) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
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 Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142196304
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/29/2004
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.79 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Swander

Mary Swander is an award-winning poet and essayist and the author of eight works of nonfiction. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, New Republic, and USA Today. A regular commentator on Iowa Public Radio, Swander teaches at Iowa State University

Good To Know

In our interview, Swander shared some fun facts with us:

"I live in an old one-room Amish schoolhouse."

"I have a dog who can answer the phone."

"I am a licensed massage therapist and a licensed hypnotherapist."

"I play the clawhammer banjo."

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      Ames, Iowa
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 5, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Carroll, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Iowa State University, 1973; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1976
    2. Website:

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2006

    Dark Night Of The Soul

    The dark night of the soul is indescribably more intense and severe than depression. It is spiritual heart surgery. In 'The Desert Pilgrim', Mary Swander graciously takes us into her personal journey through excrutiating physical pain, deep mental anguish and dark spiritual suffering. From a 'no hope' medical diagnosis to throwing away her cane, Mary's story cannot help but make us realize that hope is eternal and that faith is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. Michael Daniel

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2006

    Route 66

    Do not let any preconceived thoughts or even the first five pages prevent you from becoming enlightened by taking advantage of someone else's experiences. Ms. Swander describes the earthly hues of the mountains in New Mexico to melting neapolitan ice-cream in this unique story about the power of faith. If you prefer fiction, then you will relish the true story that drives you to reach out to the author after you are finished.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2003

    A Healing Journey

    In The Desert Pilgrim, Iowan Mary Swander shares her journey from debilitating illness to physical and spiritual healing with the help of an Orthodox monk and an herbal healer in an Albuquerque barrio. Swander doesn't exaggerate the extent of her recovery or the power of her regained faith, yet there is no doubt she has been transformed by this experience and by the wisdom and generosity of Lu and Father Sergei. Swander's writing is clear and accessible, and her story is an inspiration.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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