“Hiking Naked is a compelling examination of the intention to serve those around us—and the search for God’s voice in the wilderness of civilization.”
By Ellen Michaud
Discernment has got to be the toughest process in which Quakers engage.
It is deep, it is profound, and it is often frustrating as we circle round and round a particular question, a particular issue, a particular set of circumstances. But the sense of rightness, and the experience of patient, everlasting, and overwhelming love as we come to finally understand that we are led in one direction or another touches our souls, grows our faith, and teaches us both patient waiting and trust. And it opens us to time on a millennial scale, not a human one.
But what happens when the process goes on for years in relation to a single, pivotal leading such as a career choice? What happens when, on some level, you sense that a leading has either disappeared or morphed into something else that you can’t seem to recognize? Can’t seem to find? Can’t even define?
Those are the questions at the heart of Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance—a riveting and lyrical memoir by award-winning author Iris Graville.
Iris had been led to a nursing career early in life, and had pursued that leading through direct service, administrative, and policy-making roles in public health for close to 20 years. Eventually, the overwhelming needs of patients with few resources, and the demands of an overwhelmed and under-staffed health care system triggered major burnout. She wondered if she was really making a difference in her patients’ lives—and if the demands of her work were worth what she was able to achieve.
But none of the usual strategies for burnout like switching jobs, attending meeting, or a week’s vacation in the country seemed to help. Eventually, driven by an urgency she could barely define, Iris quit her job, left her desk stacked high with urgent messages, and convinced her husband and 10 year-old twins to leave their home and spend two years deep in the wilderness of Stehekin, a remote mountain village of 85 neighborly people in Washington State’s North Cascades. It was a place stripped down to the essentials. There was only one phone in the village, no highway, no grocery store, no doctor, just pine, fir, rock, bears, floods, ice, snow, raging rivers, forest fires, a lake 50-some miles long, and ordering groceries by mail---to be delivered by boat once a week.
The change was radical. But, as Iris details in her book, after two years of solitary walks, thought, questions, work, journaling, reading, and figuring out how to get slush out of the washing machine, she was finally able to hear the whispers of God.
Helped immeasurably by Iris’ keen eye for detail in the wilderness in which she lived, her sensitivity to the feelings, needs and nuances of those she met, and her openness to sharing the questions and doubts she experienced about what God was calling her to do, Hiking Naked is a compelling examination of the intention to serve those around us— and the search for God’s voice in the wilderness of civilization.
Although graced with what is probably the most riveting book title in recent memory, and although it’s true that her husband, on one hot day, did hike naked up a mountain trail in an isolated region of the Cascades just to make his mentally exhausted wife laugh, the title is actually a metaphor for striping life of all but the essentials, then examining it piece by piece, learning the lessons that—to the ear that hears, the eye that sees, the heart that beats with love—allows us to breathe in the whispers of God and follow where they lead.
Ellen is the editor-at-large for Live Happy Magazine, and the author of Blessed: Living a Grateful Life, which was named the #1 spiritual/inspirational book of the year by USA BookNews. She is also an alumna of the School of the Spirit’s program on contemplative living and prayer, a past writer-in-residence at Earlham School of Religion, and the former book review editor of Friends Journal.