Yesterday’s guest. Rev. Meighan Pritchard on Darkwood Brew reminded me that when it comes to nature, “wildness” is different than “chaos.” This is a truth all natural scientists, conservationists, and people who pay attention to nature all know, but I wonder sometimes if that message gets lost these days in the onslaught of messages that come our way? Do we fear wildness because it seems so out of control, it seems to have no purpose?
Growing up in the woods of central and northern Minnesota gave me with a confidence to be “in the wild” that hasn’t left me in spite of the fact that I live almost all my days within 20 feet of pavement at all times. I’ve slept on the hard ground, warmed by fading embers of jack pines logs with wolves howling at the moon nearby. That I managed a few hours sleep in that situation has as much to do with how tired I was, as well as the fact that my friends were more worried than me, and they kept watch. God creates “wildness” from chaos. That’s a key belief of mine.
As a kid, my grandparents’ house bordered some wild county land just north of Duluth, MN. The land had grouse, squirrels, woodpeckers, deer, and bears, and I saw them all. During raspberry season it was a constant battle between my grandfather and the bears of who could get up earlier to get to the berries. Grandpa loved raspberry jam, and I got to see the sun rise many mornings while on “bear patrol.” But even more formative for me was reading a book I “borrowed” from one of his friends: A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. I can’t imagine anyone loving God’s creation more than the man who wrote this book. I remember sitting out in the backyard and being enthralled by the tales of this guy who saw way more in his woods than I did in mine.
I recently bought my own copy of that book, and reading it flooded me with memories long since tucked away in the dark recesses of my mind. In the past 40 years since I first read it, I have met many people influenced by Leopold and his ideas. My favorite conservation organization, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation uses a quotation from Leopold to introduce their section on hunting, wilderness, and wildlife ethics. What I learned from him–way back when–was that wilderness had a system. It was not chaotic. (I love that people now try to make chaos its own system, but I will leave that discussion to the post-moderns, and confine my understanding of chaos to that which has no system. Old-fashioned perhaps, but for purposes of this essay, just fine.)
I don’t understand all the science that goes into an ecosystem, but I do see some of the relationships that go into what I call “the wild.” That’s what creation, what the first “seven” days of the creation story in the Bible, are all about: the relationships God creates for the fecundity of life. The Bible is pretty clear that the most important thing one has is “life.” And life is nothing more than the relationships we have that energize, redeem, and sustain us.
My “life” only makes sense in relation to the people I’ve known, only makes sense within the air I breathe, or the land I walk. Even the little cardinal who sits right outside my window and chatters from his branch that he is awake and ready to go–though it is only 5:09 am–influences who I am. We don’t tell the creation stories because we want to assert that God has power, we tell those stories so that we can believe we have a purpose, we have meaning in a world of seemingly endless relationships.
What Leopold knew, my grandpa knew, and maybe even my new cardinal friend knows, is that we are not placed here without a system, without a web of relationships that free us to live and be in the world. We are all part of the divine purpose of God (Christians call that “love.”). The world is not chaotic, but it is wild–and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
May your tables me full and your conversations be true.
Scott Frederickson, Ph.D., is an ordained Lutheran pastor, who writes about issues of Christian faith and spiritual formation at PrairieTableMinistries.blogspot.com