Wildness...and the mark of Cain
I'm presently finishing a marvelous little book about John Muir. I spent last weekend in Yosemite with family, and my son, who rode his bike from Seattle to Fresno, via San Francisco and Yosemite, had stayed in the same motel that John Muir stayed in, with Teddy Roosevelt. So conservation and the wilderness has been on my mind a great deal lately.
Muir would write, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over civilized people, are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is necessity; and that mountain parks are useful not only as fountains of timer, but as fountains of life."
If Muir viewed urbanized people of the late 18th century as nerve shaken and over civilized, I wonder what he'd think of our lives today, where for many, the only encounter with fresh air is those few steps between door and car, and any sense of wildness has been fully exorcised from our lives, leaving us with a sort of sanitized techno-living, whereby we eat unhealthy foods, and embrace unhealthy sedentary lifestyles that include far more sitting, stressing, and staring at screens than God ever intended?
I'm of the opinion (and it's only an opinion, so I don't make a big deal of it in the church I lead) that these choices aren't morally neutral, but are far, far, from what God intended. One can go back and see the original plan in Genesis. When the plan went wrong, Cain become the line that represents people trying hard to live in a way that insulates them from any sense of dependence on, or awareness of the creator. How did he do this? God told Cain that his destiny was to be a wanderer on the earth, but instead of wandering, we read that Cain settled down and made a city. Then came tools and agriculture, all of which served to make our lives "easier" (at least in the short term), and all of which served to insulate us from encounter the beauty and terror of wildness. Thus was humanity tamed; thus did our wildness die, thus did our encounters with God move away from the revelation that comes through nature, depending instead, increasingly, on the book.
The problem was that we view God's injunction on Cain to be a wanderer as a curse, rather than God's provision to reinstate in Cain a sense of dependency on God. Because of this paradigm, we've come to view nature as the adversary, and our ability to settle and insulate ourselves from nature as a victory. This, I believe, is tantamount to calling 'good evil' and calling 'evil good'!
Please don't get me wrong. The book is good, important, central, to our faith. There are declarations therein which could never be uncovered through the general revelation that comes from the wild, and those revelations are the foundation of our faith. However, there are revelations as well, that come from creation that are more subjective, changing us in powerful ways and opening us up to transcendence and eternity through, as Psalm 19, Romans 1, and Romans 10 all say, "what has been created". To insulate ourselves from this kind of encounter, focusing solely on the book, must be damaging in some way, just as to focus only on nature at the expense of the book would be damaging. The real answer is: YES... nature and book.
So here we are, with intellectualized faith and industrial agriculture, both of which seem to be weakening us, like some sort of Kryptonite for the soul. The problems with intellectualized faith have been cataloged in many places. An example of the problems with industrialized agriculture can be seen here. We're paying for this insulation from the wild, in other words, in our spirits, souls, and even our bodies.
I'm not advocating that we become Luddites. But I am suggesting several shifts in our thinking are needed:
1. away from 'only the book' to 'the book and nature'. I offer this because this is exactly what the book suggests, in all the passages I listed above, and more. Those who, like David, are shaped by living in the wilderness, seem to see facets of God's character that appear inaccessible if one's life is lived indoors. This means...
2. we need to time and courage to 'get out'. Start small, with a walk in the park if that's all the time or capacity you have right now. But start. Expose yourself to what God wants to teach you about His character through creation. If you're an old hand at this already, then push yourself a bit further. Try a night of solitude in the mountains. Don't take your i-pod... just go.
3. away from industrialized agriculture, towards localized and organic foods - because we need to change the entire way food gets distributed on the earth. We need to this for the sake of health, and the environment, and the global hunger situation. We can begin by affirming those farms who are producing local organic goods, because these use far less petroleum, both for production and distribution. Also, by buying these, I'm not buying a techno-fruit, produced through genetic manipulation. There's a great deal to learn about this subject, and if you're interested, you should consider this movement as a starting place. If we do this, we'll also move away from Omega 6 oils in our bodies, towards Omega 3's. The article referenced above will explain these important oils and the effect they have on our health.
4. away from sedentary living, towards incorporating movement. We're not made to sit on our butts all day.
5. away from whatever it is we're doing, towards some sort of Sabbath practice. To be both/and people, city and creation, book and general revelation, solitude and community, we're going to need to find time, for cooking, walking, getting outside. God has given us this time. It's called "Sabbath"
I thought as I got older I'd stay inside more. That will probably happen later, but for now, the opposite it true. I'm more barefoot, more organic, more candles, more full night's sleep, more sitting outside to read and study. By resisting Cain's path, I'm finding something that helps connect me with God, my family, and my own body.
How can we help each other recognize the dangers of "Cain's Lifestyle", pointing each other, instead, to health and life?