TRUCKEE, Calif. — Can shredding some powder on the Sierra slopes also serve as a religious experience?The Rev. Karen Foster, a Unitarian Universalist, and religious ritual expert Dr. Marcia McFee think so. The two Truckee locals have teamed up to publish “Spiritual Adventures in the Snow,” a book promoting the act of snowboarding and skiing as a spiritual practice.The authors said their book illuminates snowboarding and skiing and outdoor experiences as physical pursuits based in physical participation, an idea they say is very much overlooked in society's organized religions, where indoor worship is the staple for all spiritual practices.“The book is really trying to expand the definition of spirituality,” McFee said. “Spirit is the thing that animates our life. The physical is very much a part of our spirituality.”Foster explained that many times people have religious experiences outdoors, a feeling she describes as the “Woohoo Experience,” which can be entertaining but also exhilarating, and one that inspires awe and wonder in its recipients.“A lot of folks wouldn't define that as spirituality, but that's what we're trying to get at — that that is a spiritual experience,” she said.As a Unitarian Universalist reverend, Foster said her faith — which incorporates ideas from Christianity in addition to multiple religious and non-religious belief systems — is all about personal quests and each person finding his or her own spiritual path.Snowboarding and skiing, Foster said, is part of her own spiritual path because it allows her to connect with herself and inspires her to feel a part of something larger.Foster said the book teaches people of all faiths, organized or otherwise, to indulge that outdoor spirituality, especially through skiing and snowboarding.“When we're passionate about something that makes us feel so alive, that's a spiritual experience that's really connecting us more closely to ourselves, and that thing which is larger than ourselves,” Foster said.McFee, who attends the United Methodist church, said the book is supplemental to organized religion, to be seen as another tool to boost spirituality, not to eclipse anyone's current faith.“It's not a matter of replacing one spiritual practice for another. Organized religion has its place and does a lot of good in a lot of places and I think there is a place for that,” she said.McFee said many in the Truckee/Tahoe region can understand and relate to the concept since there is such an active population of outdoor enthusiasts.“I think you get a greater percentage of people in this community who get that there is something more to the sport than just skiing or snowboarding,” Marcia said. “There are some people who do find this as their primary spiritual purpose.”However, both authors agreed those who limit spirituality to the narrow definition of indoor church worship limit their opportunity for spiritual growth.“I think the heavy dogmas are a barrier to spirituality, and I think being inside is a barrier,” Foster said. “I think being outside helps you to feel alive and connected in a way the indoors cannot.”Both said their primary intent for writing the book was to push people to expand their spiritual horizons through exploration and physical activity even if this means just simply stepping outside the front door.“It's essential for who we are as humans to find a way to make meaning of life and have that be something that revives our soul,” McFee said.
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