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  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

Rewilding the Church, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about my small community’s efforts at rewilding the church, not as a way to rewild the landscape around this or that church building (which, it seems, is how some conceive of it) but in terms of rewilding Christianity. The landscaping approach, which I get and support to some degree, just strikes me as just another bourgeois hobby of the gentile middle class, kind of like fashion jeans or something. I have a more radical project in mind.

Primarily, this is a project of spiritual subsistence. “Subsistence,” for me as a biodynamic farmer, is a pretty important term which as David Boilier has argued, “must be understood not as bare and brutish survival, but as a sustainable life outside of the market order.” My wife, in fact, is pretty fond of saying at our various festival gatherings, “We might not have any money, but we eat like kings.” When you grow your own food, raise your own animals, tend your own bees, and make your own mead, beer, and wine, you can afford (note the metaphor) to say that.

Boilier, however, is writing primarily about the contributions of radical Catholic priest and revolutionary thinker Ivan Illich and the contemporary commons movement (readers of this blog and my book Transfiguration will, hopefully, recall my enthusiasm for the idea of the commons—and my lament for its loss).

But this idea of the commons, as much as it touches on the economic and cultural lives of people, also has import for their spiritual lives. As Boilier writes, “Just as the Catholic Church proceeded to monopolize, regiment and institutionalize the realm of the spiritual—insisting that professional priests and church structures are needed to attain salvation—so the state, too, began to see the advantages of colonizing vernacular life.”

This institutionalization of life, as we have seen all too plainly over the past eighteen months, has also impacted our digital lives. The internet (and even social media) which not all that long ago was understood as a realm of freedom and public access—a digital commons in practice—has increasingly been morphing into a digital enclosure. The commons, that is, is the enemy of the technocrats.

All these things being so, I advocate for a spiritual rewilding, which is a rewilding of the Church writ large. The institutions around us—secular and religious—are characterized by a fetid rot. And I am no longer am willing to serve such institutions. So I propose taking back the sacramental life that has been held—surely not in “trust”—like a ring of power by those interested in maintaining power, by technocrats no less than hierarchs: a power that prohibits sincere Christians from communing together for no other reason than juridical claims to authority. This is uncivilized.

Of course, there is nothing civilized about civilization, and, as H.J. Massingham (who, along with Robert Herrick is one of my tutelary spirits) once wrote, neither is “democracy": “Abstract terms like ‘democracy’ came to mean the rule of a minority by means of propaganda and the power of wealth over vast aggregates with a collective way of life and a collective ‘soul’ pent up in squalid industrial cities.” [1] I believe this now goes under the name “The Great Reset,” the false promises of which even infect religious leaders, the Dalai Lama no less than Patriarch Bartholomew. Surely some revelation is at hand.

As I have written before, the ancient Celtic Church offers something of a model of this way of rewilding the Church. As Christopher Bamford writes of the Celts, “Theirs was a country and a people of individual, autonomous units. Placing great emphasis on freedom, they constituted no state or nation but rather a free federation of tribes.” [2] This is more or less how I envision the rewilded Church. Also from Bamford:

Celts lived a life, as one modern authority puts it, ‘of freedom verging on anarchy.’ Jean Markale writes: ‘The essence of Celtic philosophy would appear to be a search for individual freedom, not based in egoism, but founded in the belief that each person is special and therefore different from others, that behavior cannot be modeled on a pattern created by others.’” [3]

A rewilded Church would follow along much the same lines.

Furthermore, I cannot envisage the rewilded Church as in any way disconnected from both Creation (as in the cosmos) and creation (as in the both the fine and practical arts, not to mention the liberal arts). Only in that way could the rewilded Church be reconsecrated in the ways of life. As Bamford explains it, “They studied, they learned, in order to love. Their theology, their religion, was always practical, vibrant with life, mystical.” [3] But it wasn’t otherworldly. The internet, social media, gaming—these are otherworldly. The rewilded Church, on the other hand, is this worldly in the truest sense, colored precisely by the power of Him from whom all Life flows.

The Hail Mary in Irish. Talk about rewilding!

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine.

1. H.J. Massingham, The Tree of Life (London, 1943), 125.

2. Christopher Bamford, An Endless Trace: The Passionate Pursuit of Wisdom in the West (Codhill Press, 2003), 94-95.

3. Ibid., 95.

4. Ibid., 110.

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