Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Seminary as a wild seed bed. Where the seeds of transformation you've been asked to bring into the world receive the sun, rain, soil needed for sprouting something new into the world.
I loved seminary. Compared to the church where I had first encountered a fiercely alive and loving Christ, my seminary was considered liberal. Which is kinda hilarious to me now because now I consider it extremely conservative. But still. I loved learning about the history and culture of early Christianity and how to exegete passages and read Greek. I thrived with the time and opportunity to engage in long conversations with friends about theological and cultural issues and watch my friends and eventually even myself find significant relationships and get married to enter "into ministry" together. My days of seminary are still cherished.
But it didn't really prepare me for the questions I was seeking: "How can I offer myself to God, the world in a way that offers pathways of transformation?" I learned how to preach and how to apply theology to everyday life. Kindof. But the sort of shift I'd experienced in my own life with a mystical encounter with what I would now call a "wild Christ" (ie: undomesticated or tamed by men who wanted to control the narrative and the people) wasn't at the center of any discussions, inside the classroom or outside.
I had many questions. Questions that can't really be answered with answers. But it wasn't till I worked in the church as a pastor for several years, left the church for several years and then was able to experience these questions in an embodied way in direct relationship with the natural world that I began to surrender the old questions and open up to what I'd never thought to question before. I realized through experience that I was, like my Western culture and religious tradition, severely disconnected from the natural world. And until I found a way to reconnect, I could never really know who I am or what I'm here to offer the world. I needed to be called into the wild like every other spiritual leader in all the ancient Judeo-Christian stories of my heritage. The actual wild. Not a metaphor.
My book describes a particular mystical experience that went on for three days in relationship with a series of wild mule deer does. This experience shifted my life in a way, looking back now, that was foundational. It took a little while for the threads of my life to unravel, a necessary but not fun time of emptying before I was able to begin to see what was happening: my spirituality must be connected with my embodied relationship with both human and the more-than-human communities.
It's a longer story, but eventually I connected with three other Christian leaders -- two of them Presbyterian pastors, one of them a child psychiatrist...all of whom had been transformed through this 'wilderness soul work' we'd experienced through the Animas Valley Institute, programs developed by developmental psychologist Bill Plotkin. We spent a couple years imagining, thinking, talking and finally created a comprehensive, experiential yearlong "eco-ministry certificate" program that offered everything we felt we needed at such a pivotal time as we are facing.
We launched in 2019 at Ghost Ranch with two weeklong programs, introductions to the yearlong immersion. Brian McLaren and Richard Rohr were our guest speakers. Now we are welcoming our fourth cohort for the yearlong program. While at first we imagined this program would primarly serve pastors and other Christian spiritual leaders, it's turned out to be much more broad. Only about 10% of the participants are pastors and approximate 50% even identify as Christian. But all are drawn to the "wild roots of visionary experience, embodied by mystics throughout the ages who lives a nature-based spiritual path." (a quote from our website, written mostly by one of my partners, Matt Syrdal).
As we continue to deepen into this calling and encounter and enter into relationship with people who feel called to this work, we find ourselves in awe. We recognize that something is shifting in the world. And we can offer a safe and yet uncomfortable container, a wild seed bed, for the transformative reWilding, de-taming work we who are called into service need to do.
The Old English word seminary evokes a wild seed bed. It shares a common root with the word seminal, the seed or creative potent force that calls forth life from the fertility of soil. The seminary, at such a time as this, must nurture this bed of inter-connected seeds, composting old paradigms and stories for a future hope to emerge. Neither an institution nor a ‘temple made with human hands’, but a wild awakening to our deeper nature, and to what the world truly is. It begins in listening for what Earth and Spirit is summoning forth from within, our deeper calling.
This is a seminary of the wild, not simply in the wild. The wild is not a pretty backdrop for reading theological texts, it is the primary theological text. The pedagogy of the wild is an emergence, a sacred relationship or conversation born out of an older wisdom that restores our own relationship to our watershed, a sense of deep belonging to the whole world as wildly sacred.
Wild humans are self-organizing, self-determining, erotic, emotive, sensate, animated, mysterious, enchanted, embodied, attuned, nurturing and generative. Individuals who are wild know who they are, know who they belong to, know whom they serve, and that it is all sourced in the Great Mystery. The experience of this re-sacralized self and Earth becomes the doorway to a deeper, wild wisdom of the incarnated Christ through visionary experience, deep imagination and participation in the joyous and embodiment of Creation.