The call to ministry is a call to speak truth, which means that, lovely as meadows and mountains can be, I am required to declare Earth a wild and difficult planet. The natural order is painful and often justice has no place, regardless of what I wish or want, or might even pretend to be.
There's a temptation on a Sunday morning to talk about all those things we find beautiful and benign -- raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and that kind of thing. But there's a darker side to life on this planet, a side we ignore or hope to escape by building cities and moving from place to place in cars, protected and detached. In this very moment, zebra are running terrified from tigers committed to tearing them apart and polar bears are crashing into icy homes to steal trembling seal cubs from their mothers so as to feed them to their own newborn. Maybe one of those mama seals has successfully protected her cubs, leaving a polar bear to watch her own baby die of starvation. This is the natural way. The python will swallow the mouse whole. The cheetah will consume the antelope.
Earth is wild. Feral. Unsafe. Untamed. Uncivilized. She reveals a ferocious God, a God of hurricanes and earthquakes, a God who has set up a game no one will win, for in the end, we are all swallowed alive. We can find our God in the wilderness, a God who is raw and primal and honest. Every tree and spider and sea lion is an expression of God, is the divine embodiment of all that is wonderful and terrible.
I feel profoundly connected to and celebrate the natural world, but I don't romanticize it. Earth is glorious and awe-provoking, the mother of all life. She is also a beautiful stage for the struggles and painful realities of existence. An authentic faith requires a confrontation with all that's real in the natural world, a celebration of the beauty of a magnolia tree in the early days of May and as well as her fragility demonstrated by each quick wind.
Suffering confronts us at every level of existence and is woven into the very structure of life. There's no way around it, no solution that allows us to bypass these grisly realities. And there is no one to blame.
Taking God seriously requires confrontation with the natural order. To know God is not to pray the coyote away, but to bear witness to her attack on the hen, to embrace the savage. God is all that is. God is known through planetary incarnation and that body is the platform on which we live. Hiding in our houses or malls or skyscrapers doesn't make the inherent savagery of the natural order less real. It does, though, allow us to imagine a God as detached as we hope to be, safe in the heavens, removed from the inherent suffering that embodiment demands.
Our way of life rests on the illusion that we can bypass the rhythms of Earth, that we can build an environment that will keep us entirely separate. Our built environment allows for the illusion that we are not part of the ecosystem. We live as if we've been liberated from the "forces of nature" or from the base existence of our ancestors. What we fail to recognize is that rather than being set free, we have been torn from our roots, from the very Ground of our Being.
A life of faith is profoundly attached and willing to face into the wild and untamed reality of planetary existence. In that confrontation, we know a God who is also living outside our categories of reason and justice, a God who is not docile, who cannot be tamed by our attempts at domestication.