“Aslan is a 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.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
In my mind, there is quite a bit of overlap between the creative heart of God and the wildness of God. Could one exist without the other? The creative process, at its best, requires the writer or artist to tap into their unconscious mind, the part of their psyche that remains untamed; just like Aslan, the Christ figure in the Chronicles of Narnia.
How do you feel about the wilderness? Many people are drawn to its beauty and removal from the noise and busyness of civilization. Others are frightened of wild places, for valid reasons. Today a New York Times headline reads “Hiker Lost in Hawaii Forest is Found Alive After 17 Days.” We’ve learned from our childhood canon of fairy tales that the forest is a magical and often dangerous place where wolves and witches may be waiting to lead us astray. And although I no longer believe in fairy tales, I do agree that the wild can be scary. Even well-traveled natural areas can be dangerous.
As a child, I climbed Central Oregon’s South Sister with my parents and was at the summit when a lightning storm came in. We scrambled down an exposed ridge and were able to find shelter by crouching against large boulders. We escaped without incident, but it was a stark reminder of the risks of climbing even a popular mountain that doesn’t require technical skills. Years later, my parents were camping at the base of South Sister when a young hiker fell to his death.
Another summer, my husband Spencer and I planned to climb Mt. St. Helens with friends. This climb requires a wilderness permit of which a very limited number are available daily. I injured my knee that summer so I gave my permit away to a member of our group. I hiked with Spencer and our buddies to the treeline, then turned back to spend the day with my friend Holly while the others summited the mountain. Holly and I were playing cards in the tent when Bob popped his head in.
“I couldn’t keep doing that hike,” he said. “You didn’t tell me how serious of a climb that was going to be!”
I had to laugh a bit, because we all lived in Portland, and could easily see Mt. St. Helens on a clear day. You can tell from looking at its high, snow-capped summit that it is likely an arduous climb. But my friend Bob apparently had not taken this trip seriously.
The wild needs to be taken seriously. Don’t go out without plenty of water, snacks, a raincoat, and a whistle. Encounters with God also should be taken seriously. The Bible makes it clear that God is not safe, and encounters with the Lord were feared in Old Testament times. My Google search brought up 34 Bible verses on death related to proximity to God’s presence. In Exodus 20:19, the Israelites tell Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”
Thankfully, Jesus brought us a new covenant with God, a covenant of grace where we can now seek God’s presence without fear of death. Still, an encounter with God is something that should be revered and taken seriously, as an encounter that may not be all that safe. God may ask you questions that you are not ready to answer, or to do something you do not want to do. A journey into your creative process also may not feel safe — you may encounter memories or emotions that are painful and still need to be processed. You may learn new things about yourself or God that are difficult and challenge your pre-existing ideas.
The unknown is always scarier than the known. It is the idea of encountering the unknown that always leaves me feeling a bit unsettled in a truly wild place. I suspect that I’m also a bit afraid of encountering the unknown in myself, as well as the wild side of God. The version of God that exists in my mind is a loving, kind, wise friend who would meet me for long chats over tea. This wild side of God, who harnesses the power of the wind and sea, who carved our mountains and rivers, who would look me in the eye and ask ‘why did you leave me to die?’ — this side of God is too much for me.
“When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared…
You do not want to let him in.
You are very busy.
It is late, or early, and besides…
You cannot look at him straight
Because he makes you want to cry…
‘Why did you leave me to die?’
Asks the wild god and you say:
‘I was busy surviving.
The shops were all closed;
I didn’t know how. I’m sorry…
Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine
and brings the dead to life.”
-selected from Sometimes a Wild God, by Tom Hirons (listen to the poet read the entire poem here
About the Author
Ursula and her husband Spencer have two young children, and their family enjoys playing hide-and-seek and dancing in the living room. She works as a communications and events coordinator with the University of Oregon. Ursula is also CitySalt’s Children’s Ministry Director.
You can read more from Ursula at motherbearblog.com.