The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. - Wendell Berry
26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south? 27 Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? 28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. 29 From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar. 30 Its young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there it is.” - Job 39:26-30
Above is the poem "The Peace of Wild Things" by farmer, poet, and environmentalist Wendell Berry. I have been thinking about it for over a year now, ever since I started at Trinity Baptist Church. The phrase seems odd, doesn't it? The words "wild" and "peace" are two that typically are not sewn into the same fabric. But Berry's poetry has a fashion of seeing wild things through different lenses. When all of the world around him is chaos, the poet finds peace and place in woodlands surrounding his farm.
When I try to think of finding peace in the wildness of nature, I imagine the bays and beaches around the Texas Gulf Coast. The waters teem endlessly with sovereign creatures. They are not capable of being tamed. Most would not make good pets. They will never learn to sit or fetch. They are careless of man's superiority over creation. When you enter the dark waters, you have resigned your high position on the food chain. Every time I enter the water to fish, I am fully aware that I have entered the chaos of equality. A hungry shark doesn't care that you were made in the image of God and not he.
One of my favorite comedians, Mitch Hedberg, once said, "Fish are always eating other fish. If fish could scream, the ocean would be loud as..." I'll leave his quote right there and let you guess the rest. But we know it's true. Consult any National Graphic documentary and they will tell you, the wilderness, especially the ocean, is often anything but peaceful. A childhood right of passage is witnessing a crocodile snag an antelope in it's jaws and drag it kicking and screaming into his murky abyss. Ah, nature! Or who doesn't love watching a cheetah chase down a gazelle on the plains? Just stunning. Sometimes, nature is the most non-peaceful place in the world. How can peace exist in the wilderness; in the wildness of a place like the Texas Gulf Coast?
I asked myself that question as I read Berry's poem again and again. I finally I came to this conclusion: the peace of wild things is found in humility and acceptance.
I accept that I am not fully in control of everything in life. I accept that here I am only a small part of all that is happening around me. In fact, the chaos I may be experiencing in my life is really quite small when viewed along the scope of all creation. I accept that I am not responsible for how everything plays out in this world, but only my humble contribution. I accept that I cannot control and direct all that is happening around me. All I can do is breathe, and watch, and react, and love, and witness, and forgive. I claim to know nothing except Christ and him crucified.
Pastoring a local church feels much like this. It is wild and stocked with sovereign creatures. It is filled with dogmatic deacons and opinionated, wealthy matriarchs. Creatures eager to push their own agendas and point of views to the forefront of attention. Creatures willing to bite and scratch and bleed to survive. They are wild creatures in a wild setting. They care little about your degree, besides the fact that you have one. They couldn't care less about your opinions on Calvin or Arminius, even if you've got a really good point. They don't care or consider that you may be able to see things they can't see; that you have a superior vision (please sense the sarcasm here) that could lead them to a better place if only they would listen.
How is peace found here, in the wildness of the local church? I believe much in the same way as nature - through humility and acceptance. Acceptance of that fact that a disciple of Jesus doesn't require an M.Div. Acceptance of the fact that a lecture on Calvin or Arminius has never opened the eyes of the blind. Acceptance that the only vision a church really needs is found in Matthew 28 or even that I'm not the only one with vision around here. Acceptance that it is in the wildness, wilderness scripture calls it, where God shows up to form, and mold, and lead his people to a new land.
Bruce told me once to let the church vote. Always! Every issue, even if it's unpopular. Let the church decide. He said that more often than not, they will vote for the right thing. And if they vote for something you don't want, then maybe, just maybe, it's a good time to remember that peace of wild things. It's time to remember that God is really the one behind all of this and not me; that Jesus is the head of the church. A little reading in the book of Job (I placed a portion of chapter 39 above, but the whole chapter is worthy of reading) will remind you of your place. If it's taught me anything it's that God is the only one capable of controlling these wild things. And the local church is indeed a wild thing.