For most of human history, we were nomadic. We lived closer to Earth, according to her rhythms and cycles. We took what Earth provided, recognizing that we were dependent upon, and naturally limited by, the gifts of nature. Life was more precarious. We were physically on the move, following the seasons and the migration of wild animals and plants. This was before the advent of the agricultural era and the settling down of the human species. We learned to domesticate the land and animals. It was inevitable that our own wild nature would be domesticated. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’re evolutionarily wired for safety and security. Learning to exploit our environment to these ends was natural and inevitable. However, something essential has been lost in our domestication and consequent disconnection from Earth.
At a visceral level, we miss our wild nature, our inner nomad. It’s built into us. The more we organize our lives around pension plans, insurance products, and long term security, the more we become alienated from this evolutionary inheritance. We’re hyper-domesticated. Our dreams drop us into our sensual, intuitive way of orienting our lives to reality. They tend to compensate for our waking personas. Wild animals brush by us or chase us, indicating dissociated energy that wants back into the game.
I’ve written elsewhere about how my own nomadic nature shows up as an irrational urge to start walking and not stop—my inner Forest Gump. I want no maps, no itinerary, and no forethought for where I’m going to end up. A different kind of guidance systems kicks in, sensual and intuitive. When I’ve given myself the opportunity, the synchronicities never fail to amaze. My soul feels liberated. Guess this is a scaled down version of the Maori walkabout or finding one’s own song line.
Scripture captures the cost of this loss in stories about the transition from the nomadic to the domesticated agriculturalist (which is typically associated with a violence that is enacted against our wild nature). In the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-12) Abel is a keeper of sheep (semi-nomadic) and Cain is a tiller of soil (farmer). Notice that G_d prefers Abel’s offering. Cain pouts. The Lord asks him what his problem is, assuring Cain that he’s going to end up ruling over Abel ( a nod to historical reality). But Cain murders his brother anyway. Cain is cursed by G_d (and yet paradoxically defended against retaliation). Out of this act of violence Cain builds the first city, naming it after this firstborn son, Enoch.
As I read this it seems clear that the author laments the emergence of agricultural society (along with the city culture that is built upon an original violence). Yet s/he sees it as an historical inevitability that is necessary to come to terms with. It is an expression of humanity’s fall from grace, but still falls under divine providence.
Again, in the story of Jacob and Esau we see this transition played out. Esau is a hairy man, who lives in the fields. Jacob is a “plain” man, dwelling in tents. Jacob and his mother, Rebbecca, are portrayed as cunning, the predisposition of those who live, not instinctually like Esau, but for a future security. They collude to trick Esau out of his natural birthright. The hairy (wild) man is betrayed and dominated by the plain (domesticated) man. It’s a story that expresses the inherent violence against the birthright of own nature, (and culturally against our indigenous peoples) when instinct is dominated (rather than integrated) by reason. Jacob eventually is required to do the work of reintegration by reconciling with this brother, which is one way to understand where we are in the 21st century—needing to reconcile with the hairy man.
Finally, when the Hebrew people are settling in the Promised Land, there are two traditions portrayed in scripture. One is all for instituting a monarchy and building a temple for the Lord—just like all the surrounding nations. The other is against it. The G_d of this tradition asks “Who told you I needed a house to live in?” This G_d had no interest in being domesticated. He was happy wandering around in the wilderness with the arc of the covenant, a portable tabernacle, and sacred rituals-to-go.
Jesus himself was nomadic. (“The son of man has no place to rest his head”). He was an itinerant preacher, teacher, and healer. He travelled from town to town, owned no property or home as far as we know, and depended upon the hospitality of strangers. He was anti-Temple and opposed Rome’s imperial agenda to transform (domesticate) the conquered cities into mini-replicas of Rome.
As I considered this loss of our nomadic, wild nature, I wondered whether an evolutionary worldview represents one attempt to interiorize and re-integrate the nomadic impulse. The fundamental insight of this orientation is that reality is on the move. Everything is in motion, from the sub-atomic to galaxies to consciousness. Everything is coming into being and passing out of being in every moment, including what we call the “self”. Absolute security is an illusion. The only security, in truth, is in the whole-hearted embrace of an emergent process. There are no buffers against this arising and dying. Easy come. Easy go. The practice truly is to be at ease with this coming and going. As we remove the buffers by which we’ve attempted to achieve the illusion of control, we slip into the stream of becoming. In this stream, we seek not to control the future, but to participate in its emergence by consenting to be lived by this nomadic, primordial impulse to be on the move. Part of what it means to me to be “in Christ” is a radical willingness to submit to walk ecstatically into the unique future that needs us to emerge.