I never sat in a church and heard the pastor say, “You should quit your job and move to the woods and try to grow your own food.” I did it anyway.
I never had a pastor say, “It says it right here, on page three. We were charged to steward the earth. Now get to stewarding.” I did it anyway.
I never had a pastor say, “Your privilege is the mechanism of someone else’s poverty. Give up the pursuit of wealth. Give up financial security. (Or the illusion of it, anyway.) Stop acting like you have to be rich before you can be generous.”
(Can you imagine? What pastor would keep their congregation then?)
No. It wasn’t like that at all. I followed only my own heart into the woods, to live the way I live now: off the grid and off the beaten path, in a homemade yurt on three acres of Idaho mountainside.
My charge came from underneath, bubbling up, out of my own chest. The yearning and the call, indistinguishable. The sense of joy in redemption and the charge to integrity, indistinguishable. I wanted the woods. I wanted the wild. I wanted integrity and justice.
I wanted a God with teeth.
I grieved the rift between the divine and the savage. I grieved that I had learned a God that could be kept, like a pet, in an air-conditioned building. How did this happen to me? That my soul was so domesticated as this?
Where was the big, big God? Where was the big, big-as-the-sky God? The tall-as-the-trees God? Where was the God with teeth?
I saw the chasm, between Church and Nature. Like a split. Like a wound. Like a numbness. As if to see spirits (Spirit?) in the trees was to risk some kind of blasphemy. But I knew the Spirit in the trees was everything I longed for.
The big, big, big as the sky God. The Living God. The God who roars.
It took me years to give expression to my yearning. For years I thought Nature was a voice that spoke only to the chosen. Henry David Thoreau and Wendell Berry. Annie Dillard. These were the specially gifted. When they set their ears to the ground, they received messages, like post-it notes, left especially for them.
But it didn’t work for me. I looked at the mountains and felt nothing. I looked at the spray of the ocean on the rocks and felt timid and annoyed. I took a microbiology class, and I searched through the microscope for the mystery of life in pond water. But I felt nothing. No burst of spiritual energy. No connection.
Where was the big, big God? Where was the tall-as-the-trees God? Where was the God with teeth?
I chose a tree one day, and I tried to convince it to speak to me. This is not quite so much a metaphor as you might think. I mentally attacked that tree. I took a bunch of pictures and a bunch of notes. Of course, it remained completely silent. It said Nothing At All.
But it gave me a gift all the same. Because in the silence left behind my call and my yearning began to merge. I began to realize that hearing Nature was more a matter of choice than I had thought. I realized that opening my heart-ears to hear Nature was something that I did know how to do, but it was going to unleash a terrible sadness.
I felt my sisterhood with the woods — the animals, the trees, the soil — and the guilt came through me like a wave. I felt bitter sorrow at the depth of my disconnection. I felt loneliness. But that wave whipped through me, and other side of that sorrow I glimpsed wild and joyful. Free and alive.
I never sat in a church and heard a pastor say, “Change your life, Esther. Change it all. Reorganize your priorities. Choose another path.” But I did it anyway.
I sought for the woods. I sought for the wild. I sought for justice and integrity. And I found a call to transformation.
These days you’ll find me tramping around the woods and listening. Learning to hear more and speak less, rest more and do less, produce more and consume less. And these days I’m the one finding post-it notes under rocks. Messages from the expressive Creator God, the wild God.
The God with teeth.
This post was originally presented at A Deeper Story. Lots of love and thanks to those who curated me there!!! Especially Luke Harms, Sarah Bessey and Nish Weiseth. That site is shutting down this month, so I’ll be moving all those posts over here one at a time. This was my first and one of my favorites. Hope you enjoy it.