Hearing the divine call would affirm so much for us. People ask me when I heard my call to preach. One person told me when her husband thought he was called to be a pastor, she replied, he was mistaken because she was not called to be a pastor’s spouse. She was criticized for it. Yet, I agree with her. Do not expect everyone to fall in line with your momentary feelings on any subject. A calling is different than preparation. Many people prepare for their careers. Young people major in what they expect to spend their lives doing as a vocation. Receiving and responding to a calling is very different. A calling is not preparing for a career. It may be one’s calling has nothing to do with how a person makes a living.
What Is My Call?
My call is to the wild. I have a passion for wild places, plants, and animals. Jesus told his followers we should consider the birds and the lilies if we wanted to know how to live in the Kingdom of God. When I dream of wild places, I tend to remember the dreams. There is a passion for them in my life.
Greening spirituality is about living systems. I enjoy Lent because everything in the Northern Hemisphere begins growing and stretching upward to the light. Viriditas is at work. Seasonal depression begins falling away. Living things give off energy and produce sustenance.
Azazel in the Wilderness
The people writing the Hebrew Bible consider wilderness as places to be feared. They can be rather unnerving. The wilderness for the people in the cities and rural towns of Israel was a place of wild animals, bandits, uncivilized people, and demons. But the wilderness is also the place of prophetic communities.
According to Leviticus 16, two goats are chosen for the Day of Atonement. One of these sometimes called the scapegoat is dedicated to Azazel. The sins of all the people are symbolically placed on this goat. Yet, the animal is not sacrificed. The priest sends it into the wilderness, to the domain of Azazel. What happened to it there? No one knows. The goat may have been killed by predators or lived a wilderness life for the rest of its’ days. The idea of sins being sent into the wilderness gives meaning for those communities of prophets who went there.
Making a home in the wilderness takes courage. The desire to be alone becomes loneliness. But when two or more are together in the wilderness, the place will bring out both the best and the worst in people.
A Call to the Wild
In the wilderness Jesus meets the Devil. His temptation is to accept anything offered that is not his own. We know he overcomes it when he should be at his weakest. The call to the wild is about learning the good and the bad in each of us. If we want to know what is bad in ourselves, we ask what tempts me the most? Are there actions I am more likely to take in certain situations? What appears weak? What appears to show strength? Is there anything about I may boast about?
Prophetic communities like those described in the books of Samuel and the Kings and later Qumran went into the wild looking to purify themselves. Christian monasticism did the same thing with varying degrees of success. They saw their struggles between the light and the darkness clearly and wrote about them. They were not apocalyptic communities predicting the destruction of their enemies. Removing themselves from corrupting influences, taking their own sins into the wilderness to purge themselves of them, they provided the people with an example more in keeping with the ideals of the Torah.
A Wild Kingdom
It is foolish to be overly concerned with one’s own safety. And it is foolish never to consider one’s own safety. The same things can be said for comfort. Some people climb mountains while others take helicopters. The older I get the more appealing helicopters become. Kingdom living is much like that of the prophetic communities. We live in wilderness. I see wild but mostly harmless animals from my back porch every day. Birds, rabbits, deer, and squirrels (oh my!) are common where I live. Bears and coyotes come around occasionally. They tend to avoid me like I avoid them.
Jesus still calls us to ask where their food comes from and who dresses them. The Kingdom is about living into this kind of knowledge and learning how not to be corrupted by mundane concerns. Greening spirituality, a sort of viriditas, calls us to and back from the wild. Civilization can be the greatest wilderness of all. The church can be the place of greatest temptation and challenge. Both tempt us to take what is not our own. And both will awaken our worst selves.