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  • Writer's pictureTom Emanuel


Spearfish Falls, Spearfish Canyon, SD

“I come into the peace of wild things… For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” –Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”

When we think of the wilderness—the wilderness where Jesus spent his forty days of fasting, prayer, and temptation—we think of a hostile place. Inhospitable. Dry. Desolate. An isolated wasteland whose sole inhabitants are devils and drought.

That doesn’t ring true to my experience of wilderness though. I grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There, the wilderness can be dangerous, yes: mountain lions, blizzards, limestone cliffs where one wrong footfall might seal your fate. But it can also be healing, and beautiful: stunningly, perilously, heart-meltingly beautiful.

The Lakota and Dakota peoples believe that the Black Hills are the Heart of All That Is, the alpha-point of Creation, and it’s not hard to see why. The sight of a red-tailed hawk wheeling overhead, mountain wildflowers in bloom, frozen waterfalls cascading down towers of sun-baked stone... and the trees! Living things with joys and sorrows entirely different from the ones that preoccupy you and me. The penetrating aliveness of the Hills almost takes your breath away, the pumping of sap through tree-trunks like blood in a great green heart… the very stones seem to pulsate with an inner spirit. In the wild places of the Black Hills, a person may feel many things both awesome and terrible, quotidian and sublime, but alone is never one of them.

In its remove from the demonic voices of our hurried, harried, hierarchical, productivity-driven, spiritually impoverished culture, the wilderness can be a place of great vulnerability and discomfort for us humans. After all, we are unduly fond of the delusion that we are the center of all things. Yet, if we can allow the quiet of a new snowfall or a prairie sunset to slow us down, just long enough to listen, we may hear Creation and its Creator “over and over announcing [our] place in the family of things.”

In the spirit of those wild places where we are, at last, at liberty to pray in spirit and in truth, I share the Mary Oliver poem from which the quote in the previous paragraph comes. I hope that it will be for you the balm that it is for me: a window onto that deep-hidden Life that flows through all things (including you and me), a memento of that greenly-leaping Song which our human din can drown out but cannot, in the end, silence.

Blessin’s, --Tom

“Wild Geese”

By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK: Where is your favorite “wild place”? Are you comfortable with silence? How can we cultivate a wilderness spirit in our everyday lives?

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