Wild Lectionary: The Secret Place
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:6, 13-14
These are the words of a human in awe, trying to respond to an ecstatic encounter…with a reality much larger, an ineffable beauty… It is an open-hearted exclamation of joy, evidence of a moment of mystical glimpse into What Is that can only be expressed through poetry and singing and jumping up and down howling at the moon. These are the words of an ancient ancestor experiencing something from a totally different worldview, experience, culture, orientation than mine, and yet…and yet it deeply resonates. Buildings and jobs and culture and landscapes and governments have evolved and changed. But the embodied sensual ecstasy, the explosive awakening that happens when you are able to somehow have magical eyes that see, a heart that feels, a peek into what Jesus was talking about when he said “I’ve come to bring LIFE and not just life, but LIVES LIVED FULLY ALIVE life.” (John 10:10)…THAT never changes.
I’m riding on an Amtrak, looking out at the concrete Los Angeles river alongside the tracks: angular concrete walls to hold in the water, chain link fences to hold out any other life, animal vegetable mineral. Concrete buildings, brick block walls and asphalt parking lots. Lowes and Chuck E Cheese and Olive Garden, which seems to have a new logo. (embarrassed that I even notice that) I try to imagine, “I was woven together in the depths of the land” here. I have to use my imagination to wonder what the depths look like underneath five story parking lots…does it look different than the depths of the fully alive land in the rare wilderness where the ancients lived?
Concealed in a secret hiding darkness place, “סָ֫תֶר bə-sê-ṯer“. That secret place where I was woven together INSIDE the land, the soil, the earth. Same word used in the other Psalm for this week, where a voice unknown speaks:
“In distress you called, and I rescued you; I answered you in the secret place ( “סָ֫תֶר bə-sê-ṯer“) of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah” Psalm 81:7.
Not just “I answered you from the thunderclouds” like King James decided to say. No. Their answers came from the actual THUNDER itself, the testing came from the specific waters of a particular place called Meribah. (an aside I cannot resist…did King James translators need to distance from the ancient, more nature based religions who had deified Thunder and so they needed to mistranslate the Hebrew word to soften it to thunderclouds? Just wondering….) Cultures change. People shift. Forests are pummeled into deserts. But, thunder remains exactly the same. Water still flows downward, even if we build concrete barriers. God still is experienced in them. Our souls are still awakened when we are open to this reality.
I love the translation “secret place”…it feels so intimate and rich and giddy and alive. It reminds me of the thrilling secret place under the blankets with a flashlight when I was little. It reminds me of the secret place I had as a teenager on the edge of our barranca, on the cliff of the chaparral where I would wait for deer or God to be revealed. There is this secret place within the natural world where God forms us, tests us, answers us that doesn’t change. No matter what. It’s like this sensual, beautiful hidden secret relationship that nothing can erase.
That, in this time of constant fear and discouragement, makes me alive with a sense that I, too, am fearfully and wonderfully made to be alive right now, at this moment in history. Selah.
Victoria Loorz is founding pastor of Ojai Church of the Wild and partner in the Wild Church Network, and working with Kairos Earth to catalyze a movement of “spiritual ecologists” in North America. She currently lives in Oak View, California, just alongside the Ventura River, where oak trees scatter the edges of civilization. The Chumash people who lived in intimate relationship with the beings of the watershed used to be able to walk from the hills to the beaches without ever leaving the canopy of oak trees. Vic’s children, Alec and Olivia, are young adults with tremendous gifts and compassionate hearts, bravely willing to speak up for the lives of those at risk who are not heard. Alec and Victoria founded and are board members of the non-profit, iMatter/Kids vs Global Warming.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly reflection of ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.