The Wilderness Will Return You Home

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This morning I sang an ancient song that reminded me that the tree's of the field clap their hands and that the hills break forth with singing. Today's lectionary reading from Isaiah 55 invited an empire-orientation to remember the wilderness and to return. For the ancient Hebrew people, there was a critical connection between who they were and where they were. In the wild was a place of wholeness and belonging. Is the wilderness still calling to us? Are the forests clapping (or burning?) and mountains singing (or moaning?) for us to return and re-member our selves and understanding of the sacred? 

Wilderness is a place where the wild potential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and nonliving beings flourishing accord to their own sorts of order. This is the is-ness of a place; where what one is intended to be, is. In ecology we speak of “wild systems.” when an ecosystem is fully functioning, poet and writer Gary Snyder says that “all the members are present at the assembly.” 

To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness. 

Rewilding is a term that is used in ecological circles to describe the processes of large-scale conservation efforts aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas. This is a way of restoring and returning a landscape to its natural, uncultivated state with the reintroduction of species—both plant and animal—that have been driven out or exterminated based on human behavior. I have been about this ecological restoration work in Seattle’s urban forests since 2007. Restoring the forest is one thing, can this practice also lead to human restoration? 

There is a movement that seeks to apply similar rewilding principles to human beings. And in this approach the definition of wilderness, wildness, wilding, or rewilding spans a spectrum with the most general definition seeing rewilding as a process that takes us out of our human-centric selves and into an on-going ecological relationship with the natural world and becoming respectful co-inhabitants of a place.

Rewilding then becomes a process of becoming whole once again. 

I apply this ecological, conservation term and framework to the soul-scape, understanding that the human spirit has been largely domesticated and hemmed in by various religious traditions and teachings, as well as commercial and capitalistic belief structures. These traditional systems affirm humanity as the apex of creation at the cost of the rest of creation. As a result we have cultivated a disconnection, to the point of a collective amnesia, from how place forms and shapes us culturally, personally, and spiritually. Our empire orientation has caused us to forget the wilderness; we have forgotten the revelatory voice and sacred song of creation.

We are being called back to the wilderness to become whole with the Sequoias, with the pines, finding our completion in the patterns of the seasons and songs of the mountains.