The Second Day: The Wildness of God

From Tom Klein

I lived in a small Iowa town and played in the woods across the street from my home with every free hour. Those woods contained coyotes, skunks, foxes, bears, poison ivy, and ninjas. They were dangerous. Even an experienced hiker like me could be lost forever if you made a wrong turn or went around “Dutchman’s Pond” on the left side. During the summer, my neighbor and I packed sandwiches and hiked from morning until dinner to explore rivers, abandoned railroads, and even a cemetery, if we walked all the way to the other side.  We hid from robbers, set up camp in an old tree, and buried valuable treasure so well that I’ve missed it since the day we buried it.

I grew up in the woods (which may be a surprise to those that only know me as a mild-mannered computer guy).  I played in the woods year-round and very clearly remember running home one day — going as fast as I could — as a storm blew in. The snow was drifting all around me and sleet stung my face. My fingers and toes were numb and I had trouble making it up the final slippery hill to my house. I did make it, though. I don’t want you to be nervous.

These images of storms, animals, and enemies chasing me were what ran through my mind when Laura started talking about the wildness of God.  I realize that my great adventures in the woods aren’t exactly what Laura meant but she did ask us to remember our first memories of childhood and nature — the strength of the crashing waves, the roaring fire under an open sky, and rain lashing our faces. To that list of incredible things, I’d also add a sunrise on a crisp morning like today, and stars that you can only see when sitting in a yard in Iowa or those amazing trees that grow sideways out of a sheer rock wall and are hundreds of feet tall.  Those are the moments when we become aware of the power and creativity of nature.

At this point in the sermon, Laura switched from external wildness to internal wildness — our own creativity and passion. Our church is filled with creative people — architects, poets, musicians, artists, actors, speakers, authors — and probably equally filled with people that are extremely creative, yet keep it hidden. I imagine there are even people that we would call creative who feel like they suppress their own creativity. What could we do as a community, as a group of friends, as a church if we could let loose a little more of our inner wildness? Or create what we really want to create, rather than what we should create?

If channeled creatively [desires, emotions, and creative urges] give rise to artistic expression, to action for justice, or to new birth in ourselves and relationships. – J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation, 21

George MacDonald shared an image and it led me to the following thought… When a book sits on a shelf, its content is unknown and unused by anyone. When opened and read, it comes to life. The book didn’t change, our action to the book changed. Laura talked a lot about creativity, and that many times, we keep creativity suppressed and bottled up. Our creativity is just like the contents of the book.  The ideas, the goals, the wildness, and the desires are present, but they only become something if we let them out.  (Newell, 25)

As you can see, the sermon stirred up lots of ideas in my head, but I wouldn’t be genuine if I didn’t share my first thought after hearing Laura talk about earth, air, fire and water — the fact that it is September can’t be a coincidence:

In 2005, I went back to my hometown and walked through the woods. The vast movie-set in my mind sits on less than a few square miles and I didn’t see a single grizzly bear or ninja. I did still feel the excitement and joy that I felt as a kid, though, with the wind blowing the leaves down the trail in front of me. If those now-silly memories can still be so fresh and exciting in my mind, just think what I could do with the ideas that are inside now. How about you?

“And there was evening, and there was morning–the second day.” – Genesis 1:8

Creation . . . creation

Most days I am consumed with language. I teach writing, so I am continually talking about writing, thinking about writing, reading others’ writing, reading writing about writing. Or I’m writing. I pay attention to language, always, and the way language is presented.

One aspect of language that matters, especially the language of our faith, is capital letters. Of course we use capital letters to indicate the beginning of a sentence, or proper nouns. We are taught to always capitalize “I” (another topic for another time, perhaps). But when we talk about our faith (Our Faith), capital letters can change meaning significantly.

God     god

Belief     belief

Faith     faith

Miracles     miracles

Creation     creation

For all my adult life I’ve struggled with Belief. I don’t Believe. In God. Or god. But I do believe in plenty of things, like baseball and oceans and air so cold it freezes nose hairs. Maybe god had something to do with those things. i don’t know.

I don’t believe in Miracles like the parting of the Red Sea or the Ascension of Jesus. But I do believe in miracles like the grip of a newborn baby on my finger, or the way that seeds and sun and water can create vegetables out of dirt.

I don’t believe in Creation as in “on the first day God Created.” But I believe in creation that means something out of nothing (like writing, or birth). And I believe in creation that is the dirt we tread on and the air we breathe.

This past week Laura introduced us to the Celtic view of creation. If you’ve read this far (stick with me; I’m almost done) it won’t surprise you that I love the idea of creation being “the grand volume of God’s utterance.” I’m also taken with the notion that we should be alert to the “expressions of God in the mystery of Creation.”

Mystery. That’s an idea I can Believe in. Maybe I’ll begin to capitalize it from now on.

The Book of Creation

I open the book
and the words
fly out of the page.
            –Scottish Poet Kenneth White

Every once in a while, I have these experiences in which I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the world. I remember vividly the first time I saw an ocean. I stood on the beach, transfixed by the sheer vastness of the open water. I remember squinting to see the horizon, where the water met the sky. It looked like the edge of existence, even though I cognitively knew there were people living on the other side. When I lived in Bolivar, my friends and I would often drive the 2.5 minutes it took to get out of town and into the middle of nowhere. We’d sit in the bed of my friend’s truck and stare up at millions of stars and talk about our relative smallness. Or last fall, when Laura and I went to New Mexico. I snuck away during one session to climb a nearby mountain. From the peak, I was struck by this view:

Thinking back on these experiences, I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. For Thoreau, the ability to recognize the beauty of nature was directly connected to the human ability to achieve self-awareness and art.

Thoreau wrote,

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of [a human being] to elevate his[/her] life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

Celtic Christianity has long seen this same connection between the goodness of creation declared in the Genesis poems and the goodness that exists in each human soul.  In The Book of Creation, Celtic theologian J. Philip Newell describes it this way:

God’s wisdom is born with us ‘in the womb’, as Ecclesiasticus says, or, as St. John says, in us is ‘the true light that enlightens everyone coming into the world’. Sin has buried the beauty of God’s image, but not erased it. The gospel is given to uncover the hidden wealth of God that has been planted in the depths of our human nature.

So, what is left for us to do? It is as Thoreau said,

We are constantly invited to be what we are; as to something worthy and noble.