By Valarie Luna Serrels
There’s a story in Greek mythology about Kairos, the young, swift god of opportunity, with wings on his feet. When he passes by you, it’s too late to grab hold of said opportunity. However, in the wake of Kairos’ fleeting journey, stands the sorrowful goddess Metanoia. She invites those passed by with opportunity for reflection, mourning, and space to make a decision. An urgent decision. Metanoia literally means change. A changed mind, heart, behavior, life.
When John cries out for repentance, the Greek term Metanoia is used, giving us a much more rich connotation of transformation. It alludes to the reality that we have yet another chance at change, at correcting our life’s path. And John comes with reminted ancient practices for living into new life. He is not an establishment figure. In fact, he challenges the political and religious powers of his time, ultimately ending in his murder. Everything about him – the details of his clothing, diet, language, lifestyle – speaks to the tradition of marginal prophets challenging the religious and social status quo. He’s a figure of the Wild Man, outside the reaches of proper or civilized religion, prefigured by the ancient figure of the Green Man in religions around the world. Like John, the Green Man was a symbol of growth and rebirth, connected to the wilds of the forest, a reminder of our deepest primal connections as earth people. He also symbolized beginnings and ends, the cycle of life. John also introduces us to a kairos moment, where beginnings mean endings of old habits of thought and belief. And how we get there is through a wilderness passage.
John introduces us to the emerging and eternal life of God among humans. God, the sacred, as living matter both in a certain century of time as Jesus of Nazareth, and in all time, found within the Christ who lives in all created beings. The merging of the divine and human, spirit and matter, are blessed in that holy water, marking the ancient rites of baptism in water as a symbol of human regeneration and transformation. John says he baptizes with water, and another, greater than he, comes to baptize with spirit. Both are holy.
John invites us back to the wilderness, very literally into the rivers and shores of our watersheds, and perhaps metaphorically into the landscapes of our soul. He says that this is the way of transformation – into the wilds of our places. We find transformation not in the temple or church, not with the rabbi or priest, but in the original temple/cathedral of the wild. Here’s what I learn from John:
Water is life. Water is sacred – a belief and reality older than humans. Baptism in water has pre-christian roots as practices of cleansing or purifying. John brings more depth to this rite in his urgent call for Metanoia in the One whom challenges dichotomy with the incarnation, the human-divine expression of God.
Opposites unite. Matter (baptizing in holy water) and spirit (baptizing in holy spirit) are both sacred, connected, and necessary for transformation.
We live in an animated universe. In other scripture, we find mountains and rocks singing praises, and rivers and trees clapping their hands with joy. Here, we find the heavens – sky, clouds, the very air that we breathe – open up with voice of blessing for the beloved.
We stand on the cusp of a new year, in a time when Kairos is flashing past us on the political, social, relational, and personal landscapes of our days. If we miss yet another opportunity, or fail at our attempts, look for Metanoia in the wake, taking up with her to reflect, mourn, and change our minds and hearts yet again toward healing the divides within and without. Listen for the voice of John, the Wild Man, the Green Man, calling us back to the wilderness where Kairos and Metanoia meet – where we are initiated into our own transformation yet again, for the transformation of the world. And lastly, be open to learning the language of an animated universe, alive with the possibility of connection with God, and knowing ourselves as beloved.
Valerie Luna Serrels lives on the North River in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the traditional land of the Petu`n People, the Stone Mound Burial People and the Senandoah People who disappeared prior to European settlement. During settlement, this land was occupied by small Native camps and shared as sacred hunting grounds by the Monacans, the Shawnee Nation, Six Nations People, Catawba and Cherokee nations of the South, and the Delaware and Susquehannock nations of the North. The Iroquois Nation ceded territory in 1744, but Shawnee and Cherokee claims remained. Valerie is a descendant of some of the first white settlers in the Shenandoah Valley, seeking healing and restoration of her ancestral conflicts with this land and people. She is a member of the Wild Church Network formed and leads Shenandoah Valley Church of the Wild, and holds an M.A. in Conflict Transformation with a focus on Restorative Justice.
Wild Lectionary is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.