Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. –1 Peter 5:8
by Ric Hudgens
We must not domesticate our understanding of the wild. I am not referring to domesticating wild places into civilized spaces. I am noting our tendency to romanticize the wild in a way that removes its sharp edges. In the rewilding of our theologies we must deconstruct docetic expressions that remove the divine and human from nature. Also, we must keep the divine and human embedded in real nature – not a romanticized Disneyland nature where animals sing and dance or time lapse photography makes change appear sudden.
The natural world which is filled with the divine and the contains the human is also “nature red in tooth and claw,” as Hobbes wrote. There are predators. There are prey.
In 1 Peter 5:8 we are cautioned to “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” We do not have to embrace a dualistic cosmology or internalize the worldview of John Milton’s Paradise Lost to catch the reference here to predation, predators, and prey. But what does that have to do with us? If we dismiss any belief in “the devil” (and I am not arguing that we must) does that negate the intent of 1 Peter’s admonition?
As climate change progresses the migration of the great North American predators widens. I consistently see coyotes roaming the dawn streets of Chicago. Last year a cougar was spotted in the northern suburbs. Grizzly bears regularly enter Mountain State towns and further north in Alaska and Canada there are increasing encounters between humans and polar bears. Mature polar bears are prey to no one except other polar bears. They have been known to stalk even human prey across hundreds of miles. In many places in the world 1 Peter’s analogy has never lost its daily relevance.
Perhaps most basic to the creation of domesticated human space, “human civilization”, is the distancing of animal predators. But the human in constant relationship, awareness, and proximity to the “more-than-human” must have a theology of predators and prey.
In David Quammen’s 2003 book Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind he uncovers the flaw in much of contemporary Christian thinking about creation and the natural order. We have an anemic theology of predation.
Whether predation is a result of some fall from grace or to be isolated to the category of the non-human it must still be theologized, reflected upon, embedded within and contributing to our rewilded theologies.
Like polar bears the human faces our greatest threat from those of our own species. We may not find the threat of “the devil” keeping us awake at night, but we do face human predators, the predatorial systems we have constructed: corporate predators, financial predators, legal predators (police, courts, jails & prisons). We must beware the predator within our own heart.
We do not need to have actual lions (or polar bears) hiding in the bushes to catch the point of 1 Peter’s warning. We don’t need to believe in a horned-ear fallen angel to understand the necessity of 1 Peter’s advice. “The devil” does roam about seeking someone to devour and therefore “discipline yourselves. Keep alert.”
We who are about rewilding the church, theology, and Christian ethics must do so within the context of a world in which predation, predators, and prey are a central element. To be at home in the natural or civilized world is not to be naive. We must discipline ourselves and be alert.
Ric Hudgens is a pastor, professor, and poet living in the Great Lakes watershed near Lake Michi Gami also known as Lake Michigan, the ancestral land of the Pottawatomi, and a region with four brilliant, intense, and distinct seasons for which he offers daily thanksgiving and praise. Ric participates in the Wild Church Network.
Wild Lectionary is curated by Laurel Dykstra, Priest in Charge of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.