What Do We Mean By "Seminary"?

By Matt Syrdal

Many people today are experiencing a very deep and very real grief. Accessing grief can be like unearthing strata entombed under layers of fear and anger. It’s like a collision event, as we find ourselves forced against our own limitations as a species.

What trajectory has led us to this collapsing of western civilization, this violence, this impotence of our political values and religious structures unable to engender lifeways and community in authentic and deeper service to a world in crisis?

Truly the crisis facing us today is spiritual as much as it is ecological. The values and ways, worldviews and paradigms with which we used to understand ourselves as humans will no longer serve the way before us.

Leadership in an age of crisis and adaptive challenge requires a new species of leader—of being human. No longer can we rely on the old paradigm of training for a world that is constant and predictable. As outbreaks such as coronavirus continue to destabilize societies and economies around the globe, we are faced with the humbling reality of our severe limitations. Not just technological limitations, but limitations of imagination and consciousness.

Looking back, seminary did not prepare me at all for the reality of such comprehensive change, nor for the scope of our cultural pathology, the insatiable appetite of our economy, the disease of abuses of power on many fronts, and the problems of ecological unsustainability in virtually every area of contemporary life.

Perhaps the good news is that collapse is a necessary element of the call, death necessary to the emergence of newness in resurrection. A new awakening is upon us. The Christian story still provides seeds of transformation, wholeheartedly embracing what Jung calls necessary suffering as the fertile soil for a more comprehensive transformation of consciousness.

Here’s what I did not learn in seminary:

Seminary did not help me develop the capacity or the language to enter into conversation with the more-than-human world, the sacred mystery alive in clap of thunder and gentle rain, voice of river and soaring flight of hawk, the memory carved into canyon wall and undulating shape of sleeping Earth, the starry spray showcasing such dark and incomprehensible wisdom born of cosmos. This vibrating Speech, this quickening knowledge, psalmists and mystics have claimed is our birthright inheritance— a gift without measure and our sacred responsibility as children of Earth.

Seminary did not till the soil of this birthright and inborn sense of wonder, magic and heart-stopping awe. It could not invoke the deep dream of freedom, a sense of self-willed authorship, nor inspire a natural wildness — a sense of kinship with the Creation. Seminary could not touch my intuitive longing, the doorway to devastating grief that opened me to numinous encounter.

In fact, it instilled a distrust in the deep subjective, what Martin Buber famously called the “I-Thou” conversation at the heart of all that is wild, all that participates in Relationship. I did not learn in seminary what the world actiually is. I did not experience the world as the body of God, the first and most rapturous incarnation of the Divine. If anything, the Christianity of my childhood taught me shame of my body— of all bodies—and sensual connection or erotic knowing vital to relationship with the Other.

For this reason, I did not learn who I really am, as one who is placed alive, vital, and with deep purpose in this wild world. Seminary did not train me for relationship with Mystery, but how to box-in a domesticated and small god, fenced in by the language of Empire. It did prepare me for egocentric cultural expectations and needs, but not for nature-based tasks of human development. Seminary left me without root.

What do we mean by seminary?

It’s strange that the word seminary became associated with institutional structure, the old Greek academy, and ‘temples made with human hands’. The Old English definition of Seminary grows like a wild shoot out of the root word semen, seminal or primal—originating. It is the creative, impregnating, potent life force that gives birth and calls forth life from the fertile mystery of dark and fecund soil. Seminary in this sense intimates the cultivation of an inborn wild and indigenous Self, growing within an animate world charged with the grandeur of divine destiny.

The image of the seed is an ancient and central archetype in the Bible. In Genesis, chapter two, we are introduced to the mythic garden in the heart of the world —Eden—which one could argue represents the first seminary. God placed —literally, planted—the human one in the garden to cultivate and to serve the ground. Adam is the one who is rooted in adamah—the ground, and this becomes the archetype of vocation, of calling for the human species, to cultivate and serve this ground. Like the soil, the soul has its own ecology, its own wild voice. Soil and soul are mythically inseparable. When we poison one with pesticides, we destroy the other. When we cultivate one, we enhance the life of the other.

Jesus picks up on this ancient imagery in Genesis and carried through the prophets, with his parabolic teaching on discipleship. “A farmer went out to sow his seed in the field”. Jesus’ seminal vision of the kingdom expressed through mythtelling is both experiential and revelatory for his disciples. His teachings, a window into Reality through the medium of story, story that connects at a primordial, cellular level. This story lives in our bones, blood and beating heart.

In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

I grew up believing that the seed was the invasive and definitive Word of God, an objective divine fiat somewhere ‘out there’. I believed that I wasn’t born with this seed, that it was in some way foreign —a gospel that needed to be planted in me from outside, perhaps from the church or the religious authorities who knew ‘the truth’.

As Brian Stafford humorously puts it, “there are Monsanto seeds, and there are wild seeds.” A seminary that is truly ‘of the wild’, takes a different track entirely. It assumes that this seed, this potent and world-creating imagination of the Divine, the cosmos — that the potential energy contained in this image, is not foreign or invasive, either to Earth and the nature-based patterns of her cycles, nor to the human species which emerged out of her maternal matrix, as the Latin root in ‘matter’, or mother, reveals.

Rather a seminary of the wildish sort, would assume that this seed is in fact indigenous to the deepest collective layers of our ancestral unconscious, a great reservoir shared between the human species and the world itself. Like Adam who was placed by God in the garden, we all carry a seed that longs for our right-placement within the world itself. The seed of our original belonging, claimed and destined for a wilder call.

Speaking to the preciousness of the seed of divine DNA we each carry within us, the inner-authority we possess waiting to be summoned in deeper service to others and the world, to be cultivated and honed in generative community, and as a gift for the community, poet David Whyte says hold on to “the truth at the center of the image you were born with.”

Seminary of the Wild is experiential, not just didactic—it is transformational, not just

informational (Romans 12:2). The guided intensive experiences, one-on-one coaching and soul-mentoring, the compassionate wisdom of the participants experienced in Council and group work, the luminary teachers and coursework are all designed to help each other discover “treasure hidden in the field,” to carry that unique pearl of great price into our communities and watersheds for healing our world. The yearlong Eco-ministry program is in service to the remembering of a forotten identity and image that we were born with, that wild YES waiting to cry out.

The seed was planted in the beginning, in mythic time and space. We are each called to discover the treasure hidden in the field, of whom we are the progeny. This seed dwells within you. It is latent. It is an imaginal, creative, and life-enhancing energy. It is an absolutely seminal image, a potent and fecund life force dreaming Earth and being dreamed by Earth. This seed dwells in us “Human Ones” who like Adam and Eve, reclaim the wild roots of the Christian story, who remember our original wildness.

I ask you now, in the words of David Whyte, “what shape waits in the seed of you to grow and spread its branches against a future sky?”

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