An Excerpt from The Frog Run: Words & Wildness in the Vermont Woods by John Elder

John Elder’s three essays on nature and his espousal of it also includes this passage on his multileveled spiritual quest.

“When we came to Middlebury in 1973, we found a wonderful Friends community that met in a school near the college campus. We regularly attended those meetings as well as Catholic services together. I became deeply involved in the Quakers, even serving as Clerk of the Meeting for a time. When our kids were small, one of the defining features of our family was this happy mixture of religious traditions. We would tell people who asked that we were Quatholics. Just as I retained great affection and respect for my parents’ Baptist faith even when my own search took me in other directions, so too I continue to love the Middlebury Friends Meeting and the remarkable individuals in it, even as my path has diverged from them.

“About eight years ago, I began sitting at the newly founded Vermont Zen Center in Shelburne. As my interest in Gary Snyder’s poetry led me to study Japanese and to explore the haiku tradition of Basho, Zen also grew increasingly attractive to me. Quakerism itself played some part in this interest, since the simplicity of the forms, the sitting in the silence, and the association with sixties rethinking of prevailing social structures all resembled Zen, at least in its American manifestation. . . .

“I feel fortunate to have encountered all these spiritual communities and resources, and to have had the clarity of my wife’s own faith as a stabilizing element in our family. Even as I now focus on a Buddhist practice, my past experiences in the Baptist and Quaker communities remain vital for me. These diverse influences combine to create the aji of theological incongruity. They offer openings into the majesty of Bible, wilderness, and silence swirling beyond all enclosures. Such a scatter of religious affiliations was not what I had intended, and I feel a little silly telling you about them. But if they haven’t quite represented a plan, they do at least feel like a coalescing, if surprising, pattern of connections. Whereas before I identified myself jokingly as a Quatholic, the best I can do at this stage is to describe myself as a Zen Baptist.”