(During Lent, we are journeying daily with King’s Beyond Vietnam. However, we will also continue to post the Wild Lectionary series on Thursdays)
First Sunday in Lent
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. -Matthew 4:1-2
By Victoria Loorz
You don’t need to read the surveys to know that most people experience a sense of connection with the earth when they spend time in wilderness, but data does confirm it. A recent(ish) survey by Pew showed that six-in-ten adults in the general public (58%) say they often feel a “deep connection with nature and the earth,” with unaffiliated persons about as likely as Christians to agree (58% and 59%, respectively). Pew Research Center survey, June 28-July 9 2012.
It was into the embrace of this “deep connection” that Jesus was launched from the river of baptism. Almost like setting sail by ship, the immersion into wilderness was an act of compassion by the Spirit of God to offer support and guidance to Jesus as he faced a series of temptations that we all get to encounter as citizens of civilization.
Despite what many pastors throughout history like to teach, the wilderness is not a hot, barren and desolate desert in Palestine nor is it a spiritual situation where dark nights happen in your soul. Wilderness, ἔρημον, is just a place where people aren’t. It’s a real, physical location of non-population of humans. It’s a place outside Jerusalem where the shepherds took their flocks to graze, because there was plenty of food. A place not-defined by empire. Outside Jerusalem and Ojai and Detroit. A place where humans nevertheless belong and are deeply connected, but do not control.
Last week, at the Bartimaeus Institute, Ched Myers reviewed afresh the temptations Jesus faced. Temptations embedded in our domination systems, diabolic temptations that sever relationship, threaten destruction and promise false egocentric rewards. Facing these temptations require solitude and the supportive presence of wilderness.
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness immediately after his identity was confirmed in the waters of the river by a voice calling him “my beloved son.” Jesus was not baptized by John IN (“ἐν” meaning among, in, alongside) the River Jordon like the others. Rather, he was baptized INTO (εἰς: penetration, union) the river and then sent INTO (εἰς: penetration, union) the wilderness. (Ched Myers, Radical Discipleship, January 2015)
The preposition matters. Baptism IN a river leads to civil actions with nature like “caring for creation,” an “alongside” system of empire, bent on more benign domination. Baptism INTO a river is a wilderness immersion that provides an image of intimate, vulnerable union within a breathing, living, inter-dependent system. Faithful baptism, therefore, does not stop in the church font, but an intimate, intentional immersion into the wilderness of one’s watershed for the very purpose of wrestling with the intense temptations of dominant culture threatening not only our personal connection with all that is holy, but the disintegration of the systems holding together life itself.
The connection with God in nature is not something new that 58% of the people have recently discovered. It is a tradition of faith, practiced by Jesus and his predecessors, as well as his followers throughout time as a means of survival, renewal, and spiritual restoration. Ric Hudgens (Christian Animism, Jesus Radicals, July 2011) proposed that “Perhaps Christianity is the enemy of the civilization that has gagged and bound the voice of God, incarnate and alive within the entire, living, animate, inspirited world that God created. Human beings living life immersed in a living world of “other” voices is a universal phenomenon found in the dominant worldview of the majority of human beings for the majority of our time on this planet.”
Our children, and most species on earth, face a precarious future as a result of the global climate crisis. This crisis is a web of complex issues, demanding a seismic shift in worldview, culture and value systems, not merely technological fixes like solar panels and carbon taxes. The changes that we desperately need, but desperately resist, will not happen without a deep connection with Place, a primal orientation as interdependent dwellers and participants in the lives our own watersheds, offering us the courage to challenge our prevailing consumerist, empire-molded mindset for the restoration of our world, as well as our own souls.
Victoria Loorz is founding pastor of Ojai Church of the Wild and partner in the Wild Church Network, living in Oak View, California, just alongside the Ventura River, which actually has water in it right now! The Chumash people who lived in intimate relationship with the beings of the watershed used to be able to walk from the hills to the beaches without ever leaving the canopy of oak trees. Vic’s children, Alec and Olivia, are young adults with tremendous gifts and compassionate hearts, bravely willing to speak up for the lives of those at risk who are not heard. Alec and Victoria founded and are still engaged with the non-profit, iMatter/Kids vs Global Warming.