Wilderness of the Soul
Based on Psalm 18 & Joel, 1:1:-20
On one of my journeys north, past Ft Nelson and into the Yukon, in the early 1990’s we stopped the car at a pull-out on the side of the road – an opportunity to stretch our legs, and take in the wild grandeur of the mountains in middle distance. Another vehicle had stopped, and a couple from a country to the south of us, got out to check the view too.
The woman commented, “Well, I have to admit, you Canadians have the wilderness… but we have the scenery.” Hmmm.
So today, in our Season of Creation we look at the theme of wilderness, or outback. The word `Wilderness’ has many different understandings. There are legal definitions that describe it both as near pristine as possible and legally protected. More loosely, wilderness suggests any wild, uncultivated, untamed, uninhabited (or inhabited only by wild animals) location; a part of desert or ocean, an empty place. Of course at present, our federal government has approved bitumen carrying pipelines through the wilderness of B.C. The Mount Polly mine was located in the near wilderness of the Cariboo, and the tailings pond full of toxic chemicals that breached the dam, continues to flow into what used to be the pristine Quesnel Lake.
An article in the Globe and Mail from last Sunday says, “Next spring, the sockeye eggs that are now being laid in spawning beds throughout the Fraser River system will hatch and the young fish – by the hundreds of millions – will migrate into lakes to rear. And that, at least in one lake, could be a disaster. Quesnel Lake, into which 24 million cubic metres of water and mine tailings flushed when the Mount Polley tailings dam burst, is one of the biggest and most important sockeye nurseries in the province.”
These are just two little examples in the world where wilderness is in jeopardy.
In the passage from the book of Joel we hear of a world that grieves and is barren, a world where crops can’t grow, and the swarms of destroying locusts of the Joel reading sound discomfortingly like the pine beetles of the BC forests – causing environmental devastation in their path. We know that over the past 20 years or so, the temperatures have been too warm to destroy or slow down these insects with voracious appetites.
In the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum, we have the good fortune to have an international group of writers. We are familiar with the term `wilderness’ but our Australian writers talk of the Outback. The Outback has been described as “where the soul of Earth is untamed by human boundaries. “ I think there is something profound in that description – “where the soul of Earth is untamed by human boundaries.”
`Soul’… say, isn’t that kind of a theological word? Doesn’t that make you want to stop and tread just a bit more softly on the earth? As people of faith you’d think it would be a natural connection, an awareness of the sacredness of all life. But not necessarily so. In fact, some parts of the Christian community have been the most vehement to deny Climate change, or at least humanity’s part in its acceleration. It seems indeed to be a part of human nature to deny that which we fear.
As much as I trust David Suzuki, I didn’t just want to take his word for it, so I looked up the Cornwall Alliance website myself. The title said: Global Warming: Why Evangelicals Should Not Be Alarmed. Note – they posted no scientific data past 2007 in the article.
The article concludes: “In short, all of these scientific developments–and many more–provide good reason at least to question, if not to reject outright, the popular claim that human action is driving catastrophic climate change.
Bible readers should find these developments unsurprising. In at least three ways, Scripture has prepared us for them. First, in Genesis 8:21-22, God promised Himself never to allow the cycles that sustain human (and other) life on Earth to cease so long as the Earth remains. Second, in Psalm 104:6-9 we read that God “set a boundary” that the sea could not pass over. Third, fears of CAGW suppose a fragile biosphere and land/ocean/atmosphere system that is inconsistent with these verses and with the Bible’s teaching that a wise Creator designed the Earth to be a resilient, self-regulating system suitable for human habitation.”
Now, I have no problem with the concept of a wise Creator, who “designed the Earth to be a resilient, self-regulating system suitable for human habitation.” What I do have a problem with is the human creatures’ complete disregard for the Creator’s presence in all of the rest of creation, and that it is humanity, not the Creator who is making the earth unsuitable for habitation by humans and many other life forms.
Reading the definition of Outback as where the soul of Earth is untamed by human boundaries, got me thinking about Parker Palmer, a wonderful theologian and teacher from the Quaker tradition. I went in search of Palmer’s words about our own souls. He writes,
Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed. My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.” ― Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life
In a similar vein he says, “If we want to support each other’s inner lives we must remember a simple truth. The human soul does not want to be fixed, it wants simply to be seen and heard. If we want to see and hear a person’s soul, there is another truth we must remember. The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, and yet shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself.
Parker Palmer – from “The courage to Teach”
And so I wonder – if we paid more attention to our own souls, would we be more aware of the soul of other living things, of the interconnectedness and sacredness of everything? If we stop and listen to the groaning of the land, the waters, the air… would that touch our own soul? Would we learn, finally, to life what we say we believe? Would be learn to live with respect in Creation?