Todd Wynward writes, farms, teaches and leads wilderness trips in northern NM. He is an animating force behind TiLT, an intentional discipleship co-housing community in the Rio Grande Watershed. His new book, Rewilding the Way, is to be published by Herald Press in 2015.
There is a covenant that undergirds our lives. Like a watershed, it’s about blessings, it’s about relationships, and it’s about limits. Much of the time, we oh-so-independent, uber-mobile North Americans forget this covenant we have with creation. We who suffer from the disease of affluenza tell ourselves we’ve earned the benefits we receive; we think it our God-given right to acquire whatever we want, whenever we want, from wherever we want, without reflecting on the real cost.
But our tradition tells us a different story. The Hebrew people began as habiru, wanderers who came to know a deeply covenanted relationship with their God. In the ancient story of Exodus, Yahweh frames it this way: “I will take you for my people, and I will be your God [6:7].” It’s a covenant, a shared promise that has responsibilities on both sides. Genesis tells us that Yahweh, in a deeply intimate tone, says “I will establish…an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants [17:7];” in doing so, the land of Canaan becomes an “everlasting possession [17:8].”
Land as possession? Booyaa, we North Americans say. We love that concept. To us, who commodify everything, the scripture clearly tells a tale of God giving his favorite people a chunk of natural resources to do with as they please, to exploit as they want and discard when done.
Except God didn’t. God gave the land as an everlasting possession, which is a permanent relationship with a place, an entrusted legacy for a body of humans to exist in covenanted right relationship with a place for generations. That’s watershed discipleship. It’s communion with a particular bioregion. And it’s been going on for as long as people have sang songs and told stories around campfires.
Check out this excerpt from Psalm 104, composed about 2,500 years ago, presented ias translated by Buddhist writer Stephen Mitchell:
You water the hills from the sky;
by your care the whole earth is nourished.
You make grass grow for the cattle
and grains for the service of mankind,
To bring forth food from the earth
and bread that strengthens the body,
oil that makes the face shine
and wine that gladdens the heart.
You plant the trees that grow tall,
pines, and cedars of Lebanon,
on which many birds build their nests,
and the stork in the topmost branches.
The mountains are for the wild goats;
the cliffs are a shelter for the rock squirrels.
You created the moon to count months;
the sun knows when it must set.
You make darkness, it is night,
the forest animals emerge.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
The sun rises, they withdraw,
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his labor
and works until it is evening.
All [creatures] depend on you
to give them food in due time.
You open your hands—they gather it;
you give it—they are filled with gladness.
You send forth your breath—they are born,
and with them you replenish the earth.
Your glory will last forever;
eternally you rejoice in your own works.
I will sing to you at every moment;
I will praise you with every breath.
How sweet it is to trust you;
what joy to embrace your will.
May all selfishness disappear from me,
and may you always shine from my heart. (Excerpts from Psalm 104: 10-35, Stephen Mitchell, The Enlightened Heart)
Look at the Psalm again: it starts as an ecstatic thank-you to Yahweh—for God’s part in the bargain–but it ends in a revolutionary promise to do our part: “How sweet it is to trust you…May all selfishness disappear from me, and may you always shine in my heart.” Trusting in enoughness, rejoicing in the gifts we are given, finding our bioregional place as one species among many: these are the tasks of the watershed disciple. It’s an ancient path—as old as the covenanted right relationship discovered by the wandering habiru.