Friday, July 6, 2012

Going Where the Wild Things Are

Several years ago, I reread Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. I had also recently read John Eldridge's Wild At Heart, so I was immediately struck by an observation that I might not have noticed without the juxtaposition of the two books. Normal people would probably read this popular children's book in the understanding that it is about a young boy named Max who starts acting out and gets his rightful punishment of bed without dinner. After visiting his wild and aggressive side, he is tamed by the love and care of his mother who fixes him dinner in spite of his behavior. 

This is probably a healthy("normal") reading of the book. However, at the time I was looking through a primary lens of "masculinity studies" and as they say "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In my rereading of the book I saw a controlling mother who wanted a docile boy that would stay neatly within the confines of tame domestic living. I saw in it the taming of a masculine soul, and I was sad.

A few years later, now that I am a father, I have changed the way I look at this story and think that Max got off pretty lightly by way of punishment. However, my goal here is not really to discuss Mr. Sendak's ultimate intentions for the book or even to force my subjective interpretation upon the story--though, as an English major, this is tempting. This particular reading may or may not be fair to Where the Wild Things Are, but part of my original thoughts on this topic still stand.

Eldridge makes an interesting point when he writes, "Man was born in the outback, from the untamed part of creation. Only afterward is he brought to Eden" (Wild At Heart, 3-4). He also rightly points out that many heroes in the Bible went to the wilderness: Jacob, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to name a few. As a matter of fact, Mark's gospel says that after Jesus' baptism "immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness 40 days,  being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals..." It sounds like Jesus went to His very own place where the wild things are.

So why do the biblical heroes go to the wilderness? What is it about the wilderness that allows them--perhaps even allows us--to hear from God?

A short time ago I went on a hike and could not get rid of these thoughts. I was wondering what it is about wild places that works on our souls so powerfully. As I hiked, these thoughts came to mind:
--God created a perfect environment for people to live. It was controlled, safe, and totally on God's terms.
--When Adam and Eve sinned, they where doubly naked--no clothes and no home. In a word they were vulnerable.
--When Cain killed his brother, God cursed him to wander the wilderness for the rest of his life. But Genesis 4:16-17 says that "...Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod...then Cain became the builder of a city." In other words, people rejected God's way of life and His plan for safety and security which made them feel naked and vulnerable. But rather than turn to God and rely on Him, people began constructing their own forms of control and security.

When we go through wilderness wanderings, the point is so that we can release our control and rely on God. That is when He can truly speak to us. At home, in the city, in the car (wherever we have our technology) we feel like we are in control, but when we are not in control of the world--in the wilderness where the wild things are--we become aware of our need. And God meets that need. He comes as a burning bush. He sends bread by His messenger ravens. He sends angels to attend. If we want to hear a fresh word from God and have Him move powerfully in our lives, then perhaps we need to spend more time in wilderness wondering, vulnerable and depending on God. When we come out of the wilderness, I think that we will find our supper waiting on us, just like Max did. 

Have you ever had a "wilderness experience?" What did you learn from the experience?

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