Life is wild. Life is a wild ride, a ride between the highs and the lows, the mountains and the valleys, the via positiva and the via negativa. Nature is wild. We come from the wild—from the surging seas of the ocean, from the heat-blasting, hydrogen-exploding sun, from the supernovas bursting, from galaxies expanding, from the cooking fireball: We are made of wild stuff. Carbon, oxygen, sulphur, magnesium—we are very, very combustible. There is fire inside of us as well as water. There is revolution as well as peace. There is the familiar, and there is the shockingly new.
I Have A Friend Who Is An Artist, and periodically he asks me: “Am I crazy?” This is an honest question. There are those who lead life more at the edge than the rest of us— Jesus, Gandhi, and King are among them. So do many other artists. The artist is so curious, so eager to stretch his or her soul, that sometimes boundaries are blurred and break- down can occur. So many of the artists we have come to admire—Van Gogh, Mahler, and others—suffered severe mental hardship through their devotion to their art. Rollo May comments that genius and psychosis are very close to each other. If we are to welcome creativity in ourselves and one another, we must also welcome back a sense of the wild, which is, as Thomas Berry insists, a sense of the sacred. The wild is that which is bigger than us. So, too, is the sacred. Creativity has something of the wild about it—and something of the sacred.
Creativity has something of the wild about it—and something of the sacred.
There is a sense in which we ought to fear the sacred, but with what Aquinas calls a “chaste fear.” We have a word for fear of the wild that is sacred. That word is “awe” (from which we also get the words “awful” and “awesome”). Awe is about chaste fear, healthy fear. Not a fear that freezes us or shrinks us into non-action or addiction or defensiveness or denial, but a fear that invites us to stretch and grow and trust. This fear results in courage, for it challenges us to explore, not to run away. And in the exploring come new learning and new growth. This fear grows our souls instead of shrinking them. It does not result in projections but in expansiveness. We remember vividly our whole life long the special moments of awe. We remember them as sacred moments.
Things Go On In Our psyches when we let creativity through that challenges our everyday control of things or that challenge our culture’s definitions of what appropriate behavior might be. Part of standing up to fear of death, fear of guilt, fear of aloneness, fear of joy, and fear of life is standing up to take in the wild. Whatever the cost.
There are some wild things I cannot do. I cannot handle rattlesnakes or anacondas or live among the wolves as one friend of mine, a filmmaker, carver, and painter, does. But I do renew my creativity by walking near the sea as it rages and by walking near the waters when they are calm, by reading the mystics, who are wild poets of the wild soul, and by learning to laugh at self, soul, and others.
I can also resist the temptation to domesticate. When we domesticate self, God, or other beings, we are defanging them, emasculating them, removing the wild from them. This is not a good spiritual practice. There must be some wildness left in our lives.
Foolishness and wisdom go together, after all, and folly is a certain response to wildness. To follow one’s imagination is often an act of folly, a wild act deserving of Spirit’s presence. For Spirit itself is wild, very, very wild. And we are sons and daughters of Spirit—and receptors for Spirit, and more than that: We are transmitters of Spirit. Spirit and we create together. We are, after all, co-creators. We can trust Spirit. We must trust Spirit. We must trust the wild again.
Meister Eckhart Says that the Spirit can “madden us and drive us out of our senses.” He is correct. There will be those who do not want to encounter a Spirit like that. But they are making a wrong choice. The Spirit fills and empties. It digs great caverns in our soul and sometimes—not always—it fills them up. The artist in us must yield to the Spirit in these matters. And in the yielding will be born the expansion of soul that courage requires and creativity demands.
It is good that at least once in a while we associate with a Spirit capable of “maddening us and driving us out of our senses.” It is good that we yield to something more imaginative than the mere rational, the wholly objective. Getting lost is part of the spiritual journey. Jesus got lost in the temple at twelve, and we are all here to get lost, even to get intoxicated and drunk. Not on outside stimulants, you understand, but on existence itself, on creation itself. “They shall get drunk on the fullness of thy house,” says the psalmist. And Aquinas comments “that is, the universe.” We are here to get lost, get high, fall in love, go mad with the wonder of it all. In the madness there is a kind of union. A union with all the creators and co-creators who are bringing something truly new into the universe, the true disturbers of the peace. Here we learn anew the wisdom in the phrase “the fierce power of imagination is a gift from God.” For God gives to some of her children a special gift, which we might call the courage to be mad, to be outside the mainstream, to live and dance on the edge of life where psyche and cosmos meet, where Spirit flows into the human, where only the angels have the surefootedness to tred lightly. Rumi offers the following advice:
We must be ignorant
Of all we’ve been taught,
And be, instead, bewildered.
Run from what’s profitable and comfortable.
If you drink those liquors, you’ll spill
The spring water of your real life.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
I have tried prudent planning
Long enough, from now
On, I’ll live mad.
Matthew Fox is an Episcopalian priest who founded the Institute of Culture and Creation Spiritualism. His teaching of “original blessing,”as opposed to original sin, led to his expulsion as priest from the Dominican order. Fox is the author of over thirty books.