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When Mountains Scream

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Twelve Dead in Shooting at Army Base. That’s what the headlines of my newspaper say on the morning I write this. Just as I am trying to let go of this story; tragedy strikes again. It’s part of our world, this violence.

This week, in our study of Gerald May’s The Wisdom of the Wilderness, the author dares to ask the question, Why? Why such violence? His answer? Because it is. In chapter six, Violence at Smith’s Inlet, May relates four separate instances of violence that occur at his favorite fishing place. Turtle, mutilated and left to die. Fish, released with a broken jaw. Duck, preyed upon and drowned by a swan. Woman, beaten and killed. Of the four , it was the turtle that haunted May. The memory of its lifeless body triggered memories of other violence--the violence of war, of his time in Vietnam. We learned from Parker J. Palmer in the foreword that May served as a medic in Vietnam. We also learned that he refused to wear a sidearm and later became a conscientious objector. The full extent of the horrors he witnessed we can never know; he shares little of his experience. But the turtle takes him back there.

…there were memories from Vietnam… especially the high keening wail of Vietnamese peasant women crying over their dead. I can still hear their cry in the back of my head, a sound like no other I have ever heard. It is high and shrill and plaintive and it makes me imagine the scream of bleeding mountains.

We are bombarded with images of violence every day. Soldiers deployed, people oppressed, ideas clash…hands strike out. I turn away. Turn the channel, turn the page, turn my eyes to something else… Because it makes no sense. In the face of it I feel helpless--out of control, impotent. And I wonder if this is what May felt when he happened upon the dead turtle that day at Smith’s Inlet. We struggle to understand. Why?

It’s understandable that we want reasons: the more we know about something, the more we can predict what’s going to happen, the more in control we can be. And the less vulnerable. The word vulnerable literally means “capable of being wounded”. When it comes to violence, knowledge is like a shield that makes us less “woundable”. Quite rightly, then, we collect as much knowledge as we can to predict hazards and protect ourselves against them.

We must stop these attempts to explain, says May, if we truly want to join with nature.

If we want to be a part of nature instead of apart from it, we must make friends with a mystery that is both joyous and horrifying, and this will never happen as long as we’re obsessed with explaining and controlling everything.

May is right, of course. As long as we live in this fallen world there will be brutality and bloodshed that we cannot understand. But I think it’s important to remember that this was not the original intention for our world. I think of the sparrow mentioned in the book of Matthew. I think of this tiny bird falling to the ground and I know that God is not blind to losses of this world. Genesis tells us that Abel’s blood cried out to God from the earth after he was murdered by his brother. And it doesn’t seem that farfetched to believe the mountains must scream in grief at the shedding of blood. Food for thought: **Regarding how he responded to seeing the dead turtle, May says:

Psychiatrically, I suppose I handled the whole thing wrong…the psychologically correct ways of handling things are often just downright impossible in the real moment. This of course makes things worse, because you know that you’re upset, and you also know that you are not handling being upset in the correct way, and so you are doubly upset. This is the negative side of psychology. Like the negative side of religion, it gives you all kinds of good ways to manage your life, only you can’t really do them, so you wind up feeling worse than before.”

Do you agree with this assessment? Have you ever been in a situation where it felt impossible to respond in the “psychologically correct” way? **Have you listened to the wilderness this week? What has it been whispering to you?

photo and post by Laura Boggess

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