What does the word ‘wild’ bring to mind? For some, excitement and adventure, for others a certain level of caution. For both ends of the spectrum, there is a shared sense that something or someone ‘wild’ is not easily managed or controlled. Yet for the Christians, the concept of that which is wild within nature is resonant with parables and the spiritual life. It is to the wild that Jesus counsels the anxious hearts of the disciples: ‘consider how the wild flowers grow’ (Luke 12:27). The wild birds on the wing, and the wild flowers of the fields, brimming with beauty and bounty, demonstrate the extravagant claim of a loving God – that he cares for us, wants to extinguish clinging fear, and doesn’t want us to live in perpetual worry over provision. This is deeply subversive speech from Jesus, because nearly all our societies, economies and institutions are predicated upon anxiety, strategy, planning, contracts and control. In fact, the ‘world is dominated by these things, but your Father knows that you need them.’ (Luke 12:30).
Is there space for this wild work and this wild wisdom of God in our lives, and if so, how do we nurture, develop and create more space for it?
Conservation management is about an approach to land which ‘considers the wild things’. The ecosystems, and our place as humans within them, are also renewed when we release land from both domination and neglect through creation care and stewardship. Take our pond conservation work at Stampwell Farm as an example. Since 2012, we have been managing Stampwell farm’s acres for agriculture, conservation and community; with designated areas for wildlife sanctuary, alongside spaces for Christian worship, including a forest church and prayer walks; as well as outdoor education, mental health, the arts and lots of eating together.
Though we have four ponds, none have been managed for decades. In February 2021, a group of tenants and friends set about tackling the first one. We created a clearing from thorns, back to the original pond edges, and removed self-seeding willows which had overshadowed and clogged the water with leaves, sucking the ancient pond dank, dark and nearly lifeless. This important winter work opened up a space to the spring, and within days wild mallards had made it their home. This year, violets spread where once was bare earth; grass replaced brambles; tadpoles, newts and nymphs gather and honeybees come to sip at the muddy rim. The felled willow boughs are now benches in a green glade, encircled by traditional hedging, where the shepherds and visitors sit to read their bibles and pray, and children play. The pond is now alive to the wild, filled all year round with light and water.
Maybe it is also time to place value on, and cultivate, the wild work of the Spirit in our mission, work, routines and churches. If this is what we want, we may need to do some winter work, and clear some space in our stagnant ponds, and we can be sure to hear the birds singing again sometime soon.
This reflection was written by Rev Dr Frog Orr-Ewing for the Wild Christian email, ‘nature and wildness’. Frog is Programme Leader of MA in Mission, University of Winchester, Rector of Latimer Minster, and looks after Stampwell Farm. Stampwell Farm is an A Rocha UK Partner in Action.