Sanctuary of the Wild as an Expression of Spiritual Nourishment
By Chante Ishta, March, 2022
Some of the lonelier hours of a human life can be experienced in the very personal attempt to understand communal or even global tragedies that have no rhyme or reason: in the echo of those losses occurring to others we can also feel keenly the physical absence of loved ones who have passed from our lives. War, loss, devastation, absence and disappointment are all an invitation to a more profound form of conversation, a deeper understanding of the wellsprings of human happiness and unhappiness, a place where consolation leads to reconfiguration. This is solace, not as a made up story we tell ourselves for false comfort, but as a deeper, broader, fiercer sense of presence, a way of paying attention, of being equal to and able for the losses involved in even the most average life, a way of asking "The Beautiful Question." - David Whyte, Solace: The Art of Asking The Beautiful Question (2014)
There’s a deep yearning in people these days, a hunger for peace and meaning in a world that no longer makes sense. When I pay attention to the news it looks like a roiling cauldron of global proportions – war, pandemic, social and political breakdown, ecosystem collapse, species extinction, all stirring and further stirred by fear, anger, confusion, suffering, and grief.
Under the surface moves a deeper discord and longing. A sense that the natural world is shrinking, that the wild world is yielding to the built, that something essential within oneself is diminishing as wildness disappears. Something is missing. I sense it in myself, the environment, and in my interactions with others, a sense of being left at a loss. Where are we to turn when nature herself is troubled? Where do we turn for peace in the chaos?
During the COVID era, I began meeting virtually with a small group of friends to explore the concept of resilience. We were asking, What could it mean for people to live in harmony and balance with one another and with the natural world? Individually, we felt the effects of isolation on the spirit, and we spoke of missing the sense of human connection. At the same time, we understood that the natural world was still there, just beyond the threshold of our homes and lives, inviting us into the embrace of a wider circle of relationship, our larger-than-human family.
Each member of the group was creating ways to live consciously in relation to the land – to restore, steward, and give back, acknowledging with gratitude what we had received, and doing what we could to study, honor, and practice indigenous ways of living in reciprocity with the earth and all beings. Yet it felt as if something else were calling us, beyond what we were already doing as individuals.
Then, one of our members spoke about an emerging movement called the Wild Church Network and the book, Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred, by Victoria Loorz. The idea was simple yet profound: people gathering outdoors in nature, to first commune silently with the wilder places and then come together for shared reflections. It provided an intentional framework for each person, in their own way, to explore their ancient and primal connections with the other beings that animate the larger-than-human-world, filling it with beauty and wonder. Instinctively we knew that such meetings could allow people to rediscover an opening to the spacious holiness that awaits when one comes into sacred relationship with Source. It spoke to us all.
Our group decided to create a regional Sanctuary of the Wild, using a Facebook page to invite the public to monthly gatherings. In a very short time the site had over two hundred followers, an indication of the felt need among people to rebuild connection to the natural world in this way.
Sanctuary of the Wild gatherings now convene on the last Sunday of each month, from 11:am-12:30pm. We gather outdoors in all seasons for simple ceremony, solo time for sitting in silence and listening, and then regathering for shared reflection. Locations rotate to include people from different parts of the region. Detailed information is posted on the Sanctuary of the Wild Facebook page. The group is still new, and you will find yourself among people with varying levels of experience in this kind of gathering.
We invite you to let this practice grow in you. As you intentionally give over your attention in this way, whether alone or with others, you may discover the wellsprings that have nourished many wise teachers over the centuries. Before concluding, I give you this beloved poem of Wendell Berry, American author and poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
- Wendell Berry, from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.