Over the years I have worked alongside my church with the Oglala people (Lakota) of the Pine Ridge Reservation. I learned a prayer from an artist named Thurman Horse, who shared his life and shared his song, his unshakable and indigenous experience of Jesus - Mitakuye Oyasin (roughly translated, “all my relations”, with the sense that “everything is connected”). It is a prayer of profound gratitude meaning, I am part of a Greater Conversation.
Thurman’s gratitude was not a platitude. It was deep. Gratitude arises from a place of prayerful presence which we inhabit. A Gratitude which sails beyond our little self, from a living universe in which we are oriented in the directions and seasons and patterns of life - connected to one another, to the plant and animal worlds - a deep kinship - to the mysterious, deeply incarnating God of creation.
We have LOST the art of conversation in our culture. We keep our neighbor separated from us and enclosed through our exacting words. We label those we fear - just look at this election year. A single word can dissect, divide, dam, and disillusion. With a word we rant in racist, faceless, complacence. We have lost our sense of wonder and wild kinship with the natural world, lost our connection to our bodies and through our bodies to the earth itself. We are lost, alone in the woods.
“In the beginning was the Conversation, and the Conversation was with God, and the Conversation was God…" John 1:1. I want to credit a good friend and colleague Victoria Loorz, founder of Church of the Wild, who has spoken and shared on the significance and magnificence of this exact translation from the Gospel of John chapter one. She pointed me to an article written by Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle who discovered that the earliest and nearly standardized Latin translation of logos among the early church fathers until the fourth century was actually sermo, not verbum.
"In the beginning was the Conversation… not the word." A tradition now forgotten, from Tertullian to Theodore Beze and John Calvin, Erasmus’ defended the most ancient translation of Logos - Sermo not Verbum. Perhaps he saw the danger of losing something in translation we might never recover. The Word comes from outside the world, the Conversation comes from within. Words set humanity above the world, not as cultivators and co-creators but as colonizers, not belonging but estranged. We have lost the depth and fullness of this deep Conversation - this Christ among and within - and the human soul torn out of kinship with a living universe. Poet David Whyte says that the soul “is the largest conversation a person is capable of having with the world.”
As John Philip Newell shares in Christ of the Celts, “[Christ] shows us not a foreign truth but a truth that is hidden in the depths of the human soul. He comes to wake us up, to call us back to ourselves and to the relationship [the Conversation] that is deep within all things… Christ discloses to us the sacred root of our being and all being. This has enormous implications for how we view ourselves and one another and how we approach the deepest energies within us and within all things.”
I remember as a young child spending hours upon hours exploring the woods behind my house. On a Saturday morning, I would cross a small creek, by way of a split log bridge between the overgrown blackberry bushes that separated our property from the uncultivated, undeveloped wild woods. As I wandered with only my imagination to lead me, I became lost in conversation with the felled trees carpeted in dew laden moss, enchanted by the earthy, rich smell of peet and the decomposing leaves of the forest floor. The fortresses of old rotted and hollow stumps, perfect to explore. Lost in the natural world, time slows to near stop. When you lose sight of the wardrobe, something magical happens. Rather than panic, I experienced a feeling of belonging. A childlike apprehension of the beginnings of a deeper longing, a longing that I wouldn’t understand until much later in my adult life. It was a sense of the numinous inviting me into a relationship with the mysterious life of God.
Christ reveals in us that to become found we must first become lost in the deeper Conversation. “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will find it. Jesus' wisdom wordplay on the greek word “psyche,” speaks to the value and the cost of this deeper Conversation. Building up the first identity a first half of life task is crucial and important for all of us. In fact it is necessary to complete the developmental tasks of a healthy adolescence. But Christ invites his disciples to take up their own cross and come follow him if they would enter the the kingdom, discover the deeper life of the soul. To experience this deep gratitude we must often journey through a crisis of grief and loss. Our old way of seeing, and believing, and living no longer seems to work. What's more our center of gravity shifts, and those relationships that once brought us a sense of security and belonging suddenly feel empty because they no longer serve the demands of the soul. Our career goals, acheivements and dreams for our future lose their luster and meaning. It actually feels vulnerable, lonely, even humiliating at times as if we are being dismantled piece by piece, with the fear that underneath the rubble of our old lives and identities their might be nothing left. But this is where a profound grace comes into play, a mysterious depth of encounter and belonging we have never before known. This is what Parker Palmer calls, our one "true life," the life of the soul, the place we were born to inhabit in the Great conversation of cosmos, Christ, and community.
Lifestyle gratitude comes from discovering our true place in the Conversation.
As pastors, elders, and leaders we are called to preach and to minister, to heal and make whole from that deeper sermon, Conversation. We are called to participate in what Thomas Berry called “The Great Work” and Joanna Macy calls “The Great Turning.” This is what it means to be Reformed Always Reforming. We all want to be in deeper service to the world. But we must first learn to listen.
WilderSoul explores ancient Celtic and indigenous Christian practices of learning to listen in Conversation of the Spirit, scripture, nature and the soul. To cultivate and lead from greater wholeness and healing, and to live in deeper service to the world. Practices such as solo wanders and deep conversation on the land, the way of the circle and art of mirroring to give others the gift of the dignity of their own experience and to witness the deeper story emerging in their lives.
Just as the prophets, poets, mystics, and Jesus Christ drew inspiration freely and deeply from the natural world, using language alive with gratitude and earth-based metaphors of abundance, so we are called to intuit the deeper patterns of the mystery of God in our world for a time such as this. We are called to invite others into this wild and grateful Conversation.
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin - Thank you for the Conversation
Rev. Matt Syrdal