Theodore Richards, in his latest book The Great Re-imagining, asks the question, “What does a spirituality of wildness look like?” What does a spirituality of wildness look like, indeed. What DOES it look like? Does it mean worshiping leaves and bowing down to mountains and chanting to the sound of snowy whispers and singing dew drops? Does it mean letting your hair get long and snarly, wearing deerskins and eating wild mind-altering mushrooms? Does it mean giving up organized religion and forgoing the theology of whatever church you grew up in? Well, friends, I am of a mind that the spirituality of wildness can mean a lot of things, long hair and leaf worshipping aside. I’m with Mary Oliver when she says, “What I mean by spirituality is not theology, but attitude.” Perhaps finding that spirituality of wildness is tied to how we look at the world and how that worldview informs our attitude. Spirituality is a mysterious thing.
I turn the rock, the one with little holes punctuating its every curve, over in my hand, feeling the bumpy surface and rough grooves that being tossed around in the sea created. As I stand here, rock in hand, in my basement, I remember the rocky beach where I picked it up on the tiny island nation of Malta, and a sense of connection washes over me. Touching this rock transports me to a place across the world, reminding me that, somehow, I am this rock, that beach, that sea, even while I am this body, this mind, this person. There is something sacred here.
I can’t claim to know the formula required to acquire a ‘spirituality of wildness,’ (since spirituality of anything is an awfully personal thing) but I do have a few strategies that have proven essential in my own quest, so maybe they’ll be useful to you, too:
- Go outside more that you think you ‘should.’ Get intimate with what resides outside your front door, in the weedy patch between the two abandoned houses down the block, at the neighborhood park. Learn to love what’s out there, and let it love you back. Bring little bits of it inside. Keep going back out.
- While you are out there, pay attention. Look up at the sky, breathe in the fresh air, feel the soil beneath your feet, notice the way the wind blows your hair away from your neck. Notice how the stuff of nature wants to interact with you, and allow what you notice to influence how you are in the world.
- While you are paying attention, celebrate contrast. Diversity is essential for thriving life, and the wild is one of the best teachers of this truth. See the beauty in the garden as ten different types of vegetables and fruits and weeds all intermingle in a tangled mass. See beauty in how different your fellow humans are, those down the block and those on the other side of the world. Marvel at how good a warm fire feels after hiking in a snowstorm. Celebrate the fact that bright light makes shadows, and the need for both to live into our creative human potential.
- As you celebrate contrast and diversity, think specifically about your food. Even Jesus said something about the bread of life, right? Food’s important when it comes to spiritual things. And when you eat a diet that is rich in color, texture, and varying tastes, you set your body up for optimal health. We need more than monocropped corn and soybeans to thrive. When we grow a wide variety of food ourselves or get it from others who do so sustainably, we play one small role in fostering better health for the earth.
- Finally, while you are eating, let the food that you ingest remind you that you have a body, and that your body houses a mind and spirit, and those things are always trying to reclaim their wildness, both as individual entities and as members of a collective.
But back to my rock. A rock, even on a snowy day deep in the winter of the American Midwest, has the power to remind me of the vast web that connects all things on the earth, and my place in it. It reminds me of my own wildness and how essential it is to continue to claim it. It reminds me, again, of some of Mary Oliver’s words: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” It reminds me to pay attention to the bedrock beneath my feet and the sky above my head and the community, human and otherwise, in which I make my home. We are devoted to that which we give attention. There’s nothing more important these days than giving our attention to the wild, outside ourselves and within.
Richards goes on to say, “In the end, spirituality of wildness will help us to see that it is not only the church or the temple that’s sacred — it all is.”
A spirituality of wildness, indeed.