Sunset from the Beech Mountain Trail
Places | Writing

Acadia National Park: A Soul and Spirit Stretching Place

I was recently pleased to get my copy of the current issue of Chebacco: The Magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society (Vol. XX 2019). This volume, compiled by guest editors R. Marie Griffith and Leigh Eric Schmidt, focuses on the history of religion on Maine’s largest island. I contributed an essay on “Acadia National Park: A Soul and Spirit Stretching Place” that looks at religion in the park that dominates the geography of Mount Desert Island.

Cover detail of Chebacco Magazine
Cover detail of Chebacco: The Magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society (Vol. XX 2019)

Here are some of the points you will find in my piece:

  • One local observer surmises, “90% of the people who visit Acadia National Park have a spiritual experience, a feeling of mystery with the sea, the woods, the mountains.”
  • A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, a national interdenominational Protestant parachurch organization, offers Sunday morning worship services in the national park campgrounds plus a sunset service on Sunday evenings on Mount Cadillac, the park’s highest point.
  • Acadia National Park’s centennial celebration in 2016 included a public arts and worship program, “The Spirit of Acadia: Celebrating our Spiritual Connection with Place and Park,” offered by the Mount Desert Island Clergy Association.
  • Mount Desert Island was a favorite location for Hudson River School landscape painters of the nineteenth century, who “produced art saturated with religious associations” that “contributed to an enduring  spiritual aesthetic that would give rise to national parks.”
  • The ritualized activities of contemporary visitors perpetuate the long tradition of outdoor recreation that “has a long and well-documented historical foundation in Christian theology and devotional culture, especially in the Reformed Protestant traditions of New England.”

To read the entire article, download the PDF from Chebacco.

Frederic E. Church, “Eagle Lake Viewed from Cadillac Mountain"
Frederic E. Church, “Eagle Lake Viewed from Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, Maine” (1850-1860; original painting in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City; image courtesy of Google Art Project)

Other essays in the current Chebacco volume recount the history of various religious traditions on Mount Desert Island, including Catholics, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Jews, and Zen Buddhist practitioners, all by an impressive collection of historians and other scholars. Throughout the volume, the photography of the Historical Society’s resident artist Jennifer Steen Booher offers colorful detail of the island’s many stained glass windows. Browsing through the magazine inspires me to return to this soul and spirit stretching place. ♨

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