“But now I see you: wind, woods and water / roaring at the rim of Christendom.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Rilke poetically gives voice to a longing and lament, a sense of both awe and terror I want to explore for a moment. What we perceive as this seismic collapse of Christendom, our fractured institutional ways of self-organizing in Western culture — and perhaps even ecological disaster — is in some ways a necessary part of the comprehensive change of consciousness that is upon us. Many mainline church Pastors that I have spoken with or coached have experienced burn-out and disillusionment — an ominous foreboding, that like Lewis and Clark, we don’t have the necessary equipment for this next stage of the journey.
The truth is, our problem has never been a lack of ‘knowledge’ as such, rather we have become dissociated in our human experience from the natural world. We lack a more intimate, experiential knowledge of Self, God and the World that is at the same time participatory, unified with the cosmos, and wildly alive. I am speaking of a somatic, intuitive and imaginal relationship with landscapes, seasons and deeper Earth processes themselves. What I am advocating for in this article is a perceptual shift, in our human modalities of relating to a living universe which is itself rooted in the Mystery and of Mystery — a wild discipleship, an apprenticeship. “To say that the root of every person and creature is in God, rather than opposed to God,” Newell confesses, “has enormous implications for how we view ourselves, including our deepest physical, sexual, and emotional energies” (J.P. Newell, Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation, 13).
When Carl Jung said we are living ‘between myths’, he meant we are living in an age severed from a storied relationship with a Sacred world, in particular the more-than-human world of rivers and canyons, coyotes and birdsong, fungi and old-growth forests. Thomas Berry wrote, in The Great Work, “The universe was the world of meaning… the basic referent in social order, in economic survival, in the healing of illness… The drum, heartbeat of the universe itself, established the rhythm of dance, whereby humans entered into the entrancing movement of the natural world… That the human had such intimate rapport with the surrounding universe was possible only because the universe itself had a prior intimate rapport with the human as the maternal source from whence humans come into being and are sustained in existence… we, the peoples of the industrialized world, no longer live in a universe.” (Italics mine. The Great Work, 14) In Biblical terms, what we need are new wineskins.
What has been missing from the traditional Christian sense of the imago Dei is what Berry termed the inscendent dimension of what theologians have termed divine perichoresis, or ‘sacred dance’ — the depthdimension of what Bill Plotkin calls the realm of soul. One might say that soul is not our ‘essential center’ or even animating principle as such, but rather our unique psycho-ecological purpose and place in the world. Soul’s purpose is much deeper than role, or religious vocation. The soul speaks in revelatory vision. It awakens us to a numinous world only discovered through the pan-human journey of psychospiritual descent. The apostle Paul captures this intertwining arc of destiny: “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed… in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:19-23).
Paul is not just speaking of the creation metaphorically as our mother. Rather he is offering a profound insight that is both mystical and ordinary. It is an insight of cosmic intimacy – in a very real sense we are engaged in a courtship with the world in which we participate, a courtship expressed through the deep perceptions and movements of the soul. This includes a recovery of the divine feminine including the erotic energies which celebrate full bodied life to the fullest of all creatures and bioranges, By virtue of our creaturely humanity, and our capacities of soul, the depths of our inner nature is rooted in a greater conversation with the whole realm of nature itself. (Syrdal, The Indigenous Christ).
It is as if the universe itself longs for our awakening. Perhaps this is the dreamworld meaning of Jesus’ parable, the Pearl of Great Price. Ancients across all cultures have attempted to explain this mystery. For the Aborigines it is The Dreaming, for the Greeks, the Anima Mundi. For Christians this dynamic depth dimension of the universe, the imago Dei, in which humans participate in a unique way became lost in translation.
What I submit, is that the evolutionary goal of both the universe and humanity are inextricably bound together, and in order to discover our planetary role and calling we must reconnect to the deep wisdom of nature, an experience of the Indigenous Christ.
It’s true, the word indigenous refers to something growing, living or occurring naturally in a particular region or or ecosystem. Indigenous originates from the latin indu meaning “within” and gignere meaning “to beget.” In other words, something is indigenous when it is born from within. This definition applies to that which is human in origin, or aboriginal, and of natural origin in the cosmos itself, with the implication that it has not been introduced from somewhere else.
The mystical creation poetry of John chapter 1 speaks of this primordial begetting from within, “The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him…” (John 1:9-11)
This means that incarnation is native to the human species — but we have forgotten, we fail to “recognize” — an undercurrent theme of the gospels. The Self, which is much larger than our conscious life, is rooted in the soil of a deeper memory and grounded in the imagination of the world itself.
The miracle and mystery of being human is that we are actually incarnated beings, we are native to the cosmos, indigenous to the Earth — we belong. Original Belonging and Exile are twin themes that are patterned into the myth of the Garden, the most ancient stratum of Hebrew experience (and any indigenous people who are displaced from their land). David Abram writes “The Jewish sense of exile was never merely a state of separation from a specific locale, from a particular ground; it was (and is) also a sense of separation from the very possibility of being placed, from the very possibility of being entirely at home.” (David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, 196)
There is a part of each of us that re-members a preverbal and instinctual relationship to the world and all things wild. That childhood (or child-like) part of us is originally animistic, it remembers when we experienced the world innocently as alive and pregnant with diverse meanings. This element and energy of ‘wildness,’ of which animals and children are an expression, participates in a small but integral way in the cosmogenesis of the universe itself. Through our full human participation in the wild world — we are an expression of that original ‘wildness’. Wildness is at the sacred root of all being, it is the human and more-than-human diversity of life in its own unique, authentic, spontaneous, and instinctive creative expression and energy that enables all creatures to find food and shelter, to give birth, to sing and dance. These meaning are not assigned to the natural world or projected onto it by humans. The world in actuality participates in its own a priori meaning by virtue of the universe’s capacity for self-differentiation, communion, and self-organizing autonomy (Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story).
This wild, indigenous aspect or dimension of the world in each of us, through the Self, I believe is our way back to becoming fully human again in a world that has gone mad with self-absorption and greed. This wild, indigenous one remembers of how to fully belong to the world, in a way that is life enhancing — that we might participate in the healing of the world. In memory of a poet and earth elder who has shaped so many lives — including my own — Mary Oliver, I ask, “What will you do with your one, wild, and precious life?”
~ Rev. Matthew Syrdal