The Animality of God (Rev. Matt Syrdal)
This month's theme is "Animal Encounters."
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not knowthat the hand of the Lord has done this?” Job 12:7-9
I recently co-led a group of families to the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Sanctuary to explore our severed kinship with the animal world in order help reconnect with our deeper longings and collective grief as a human community. We spent some time preparing our participants for an encounter with the wolves in the enclosures.
On the journey down, we played together with various stories and myths that had shaped our earliest beliefs about wolves individually, as a family and society. From Aesop’s fables and Grimm fairytales, to movies like Teen Wolf and the Twilight series, a common thread linking these connections was a fear of wolves. A fearand distrustbred into our psyches from a young age.
This fascinating conversation brought up questions. How do we as humans know we are safe? How do we find belonging in our “pack” at different stages of life? Surprising questions came up about being seen, questions of love, affection and attention. How do animals decide if someone is predator or prey? How do humans decide?
For these deeper questions, and the emotions they stir, about how we are to relate to these ‘animal powers’ in our own nature and the world itself, C.S. Lewis wisely chose a great Lion to symbolize this wild ambivalencein God. The wild animal represents a crisisof soul on an instinctive level. Such visceral power and untamed freedom can rupture the membrane between this world and the other, between the life we are currently living and the Life that wants to live in us. “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” Lewis captures the fierce yet wise animality of God referencing the Lion of Judah who roars from atop the Temple mount.
The animality of God is expressed through poetic image throughout the Old Testament, beginning with the spirit, wind, breath (ruach), conceived as a bird of prey hovering over the brooding and fertile darkness in the first verses of Genesis.
In the twelfth chapter of Job, we have an entree into Job’s own dark night of the soul. And through the character of Job, we see the depth of Israel’s own emerging self-conscious identity and relationship with Yahweh. Conversation with the earth, and the animal world as teachers and allies was an ancient worldview, practiced also by the Israelites and Hebrews for whom the Creation was a treasury of speech and the wisdom of God. The human soul understands that the God of deep nature, the living earth, in which it shares is also the source of an older wisdom, a revelatorywisdom. We modern humans forget that in the deeper strata of our psyche we share a deeper, more instinctual animal intelligence with the more than human world. We were created that way! Long before the emergence of human consciousness and culture we were, and are — animal. To reconnect with our wild, instinctual, sensual, feminine, embodied, animal self is to fully belong to the world. It is a vital part of becoming fully human.
“There can be no doubt that the original Christian conception of the imago Dei embodied in Christ meant an all-embracing totality that even includes the animal side of man.”
In our age of awakening, the imago Deiis being reunited again with the Anima Mundi. It is through our reconnection with the animalityof God that we can heal the collective split from the wild, instinctive, sensual, feminine, embodied, indigenous one who intimately and deeply belongs to the world she so loves. This is the primary task of rewilding in the journey of initiation ahead. The wild indigenous one in each of us, one of the most systemically suppressed aspects of our common humanity throughout history, is also the key to becoming wholeand fully human.
Carl Jung comments in the Collected Works, that neither for indigenous communities nor the unconscious is there any implication of devaluation of our animal nature, that it is in someways superior to our rationality and actually necessary for the cultivation for our own deepest wholeness. “It has not yet blundered into consciousness,” reflects Jung, “nor pitted a self-willed ego against the power from which it lives; on the contrary, it fullﬁls the will that actuates it in a well-nigh perfect manner.”
There is a fierce beauty that shimmers in the yellow eyes of a wolf. A recognition. An instinctive power that instantly communicates to the animal mirrored within me in his steady gaze, that he belongsto this place, that this, right here, is in fact hisdomain. Wolf’s presence is both a boundaryand an invitation. A boundary formed by thissacred and untamed animality carved with tooth and claw from thisunique and particular presence. This presence isan invitation for me to cross the threshold and step into his world which is also my world, my own forgotten identity and deeper purpose. An invitation to be-long. Belonging is a deepfeeling. It is a pure feeling of fear on the one hand, not pathological fear, but perhaps fear the way the ancients, poets, and prophets experienced it in the body. And it is also a longing. A longing to belonglike the wolf to this sacred earth and the ones who inhabit it, to movelike the wolf loping through the woods stalking with sensuous gait, to seethe world like the wolf from behind the moon, and in so doing to finally belong and move and to see as my true Self.
“Meeting Wolf” - Mary Oliver
There are no words
inside his mouth,
inside his golden eyes.
So we stand, silent,
both of us tense
under the speechless but faithful trees.
And this is what I think:
I have given him
He has given me
a glimpse into a better but now broken world.
Not his doing, but ours.
Co-hosted by WilderSoul and Waymarkers.
Wild Edges: Crossing the Threshold Into A Sacred World.
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