The Wilds

CHAOS NEVER DIED. Primordial uncarved block, sole worshipful monster, inert & spontaneous, more ultraviolet than any mythology (like the shadows before Babylon), the original undifferentiated oneness-of-being still radiates serene as the black pennants of Assassins, random & perpetually intoxicated.T.A.Z. by Hakim Bey

I’ve been slowly, slowly working my way through Catherine Keller’s The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming. Keller takes on the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, the belief that God created the world from nothing. Working from Genesis 1:1-2 she explores tohu va bohu, formlessness, and tehom, the deep.

When in the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu va bohu, darkness was upon the face of tehom, and the ruach elohim vibrating upon the face of the waters…

In Genesis 1, there was something out of which God created. There was a formless void, a deep, and God moved over it. God called out, and from the tehom things arose.

God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

God didn’t create from nothing. God called creation from wildness. God didn’t tame the deep, God spoke to her. God called creation from the tehom and called it good, just as God called Abraham out of Abram, and called a great leader from the stuttering fugitive Moses. Creation is an act of transformation, of call and response. The tehom, like Moses and Abraham, responds to God’s call. The ruach elohim gives life to the deep as it did to Adam.

“The original undifferentiated oneness-of-being still radiates.” Its disappearance in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo leads to fear of the void, the wild. The drive to control the uncontrolled and tame the untamed has driven Western civilization so that we cannot even call out to creation as God called out to the deep. We have to control it, divide it, systematize it. We have to find everything that reminds us of the tehom from which we came and force its chaos into pattern.

But God calls from the wild. God calls the younger son over the elder, the shepherd boy to succeed the king. God calls the homeless peasant in an occupied land to institute his Kingdom against an Empire, a Kingdom that shies away from control and dominion, and instead sees the lowly as great. A Kingdom that inverts and subverts everything we know about control.

God calls into the deep and toward the deep. God moves in the wild.

At Pentecost we again see the ruach elohim.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Experienced as a “violent wind” and “tongues, as of fire,” God’s own wildness in the Holy Spirit moved among the apostles as it had on the face of the deep. The Holy Spirit, the ruach elohim, calls into and toward wildness because the wildness reflects and responds to God. The Spirit herself is Wild!

Where the Apostles experienced the Holy Spirit as a violent wind and fire, some early Celtic Christians experienced her as a wild goose. Why?

Wild geese are, well, wild. That is, untamed, uncontrolled. They make a lot of noise, and have a habit of biting those who try to contain or capture them. That has been the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit through two thousand years. Time and again when theology and God have appeared to be firmly in the control of hierarchies and religious establishment, the Spirit of God has broken free – and has often bitten those who tried to prevent it happening.

Or perhaps,

[W]ild geese aren’t controllable. You can’t restrain a wild goose and bend it to your will. They’re raucous and loud. Unlike the sweet and calming cooing of a dove, a goose’s honk is strong, challenging, strident and unnerving – and just a bit scary.
In much the same way the Spirit of God can be, demanding and unsettling. Think about the story of Pentecost, and the impression the disciples made on the crowd. People thought they were drunk and disorderly!Its one thing for a gentle dove to descend peacefully on Jesus – it’s something all together different when the Spirit descends like a wild, noisy goose!

To follow the calling of the Spirit is to risk venturing into the wild, to live outside of one’s own control. It is seeing the sacredness of the untamed.

It was this that I had in mind today when I read Wendell Berry‘s echoing of Matthew 6:25-34, “The Peace of Wild Places” this morning.

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

There is grace in the wild, if we can only let go enough to experience it. I pray that in experiencing that wild grace we each hear our own call.

Book Review: Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?

James K. A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida,Lyotard , and Foucault to Church is the opening book in the “Church and Postmodern Culture” series Smith is editing. Smith’s goal in this volume is to introduce the idea of the three thinkers named in the title and demonstrate how their thoughts can in fact be a boon to Christianity. Smith does this well, ultimately showing that the tearing down of Enlightenment belief in universal reason creates room for those in the Christian narrative to thrive.

The biggest failing of this book, however, is that Smith stops short of applying the tools of postmodernism to Christianity itself, instead making a case for Radical Orthodoxy. Smith continually views Christianity as a single narrative (seemingly that of Creation, Fall, Redemption and End), never making room for the other narratives that can be and are born of the same Scriptures and traditions. It would seem that his reliance on tradition as a place in which Spirit manifests in time and place would make room for the evolution of tradition, but he repeatedly places non-creedal Christianity outside of the realm of tradition, generally equating it with modern evangelical Christianity. (As a slight aside, when I do attend worship services, the church I attend is both liturgical and non-creedal, something Smith is apparently completely unfamiliar with.) To Smith it seems that though tradition speaks to the importance of particularity or time and place, some deviations from tradition are simply too far outside it to still be part of the tradition.

Despite the lack to giving Christianity itself a postmodern treatment, and despite the ultimate case made for Radical Orthodoxy, the book is worth a read to those interested in the place of the Christian faith in an increasingly postmodern culture. The first four chapters do an excellent job of introducing the ideas of Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault and a possible relationship between them and Christianity. Just know that if you’re looking for the place of postmodernism in Christianity, then you’ll have to look elsewhere or use the groundwork done by Smith in all but the last chapter and find that place yourself.