We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Starting in the Wild

Sigurd Olson (1899-1982)
As is the case in most intellectual endeavors, where we begin our theology pretty much determines our direction and destiny.  By and large, theologians begin in one of two places, some with God and some with humanity.  The 20th century naturalist and amateur philosopher-theologian, Sigurd Olson, started in a third place, the wilderness.  According to Olson, our race was born in the wild and retains a deep connection to it, which connection modern society is severing to our vast detriment.  In the wild, we experience serenity, silence, and peace.  We discover wisdom.  The wilderness is a place where mystical experiences are always possible; when we go there our spirits are renewed and we touch God. Olson's God is an emerging deity embedded in the course of evolution.  (See, David Beackes, "The Land Beyond the Rim: Sigurd Olson's Wilderness Theology").

In a sense, Olson began his nascent theology in what we might call a "third place," the wilderness.  In another sense, however, he actually begins with both God and humanity at the same time because for him the wilderness is a revelation of both.  By wilderness, Olson meant the North Country that stretches from northern Minnesota and western Ontario to the Atlantic and northward to the Arctic.  It is a land of lakes and forests, loons and wolves.  Those who travel into the great silence of this vast land will discover themselves and come closer to God.  Thus the discovery of God and of self are not separated into compartments or chapters but are part of one spiritual process.  The human spirit and divine spirit are not to entirely separate and distinct entities.  They have a unity.  Olson's starting point is thus both God and us, and his holiest book of revelation is the Wilderness, not just because it reveals God through the divine creation but also because it is the place where God emerges onto the human stage in the human spirit.

For Olson, there was much at stake in preserving the wild places of our planet.  When (dare we anymore say, "if"?) they are gone, we will have lost both ourselves and God.  It is hard to say, "amen," to that thought.