Reclaiming the Wild Man / Wild Woman in Each of Us

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – Mass during the Day (12th Sunday since Pentecost)

Reading 1:  Isaiah 49: 1-6;  Psalm 149;  Reading 2: Acts 13: 22-26;  Gospel:  Luke 1: 57-80

 Today we celebrate the Saint and prophet who was and forever will be John the Baptist. It is fitting that we explore the many persons and events contributing to his legacy and to expand his legacy to ourselves as people pointing the way to Jesus.  

Like many a prophet before him, John the Baptist came to embody the persona of the WILD MAN, and, in deference to “The Women Who Run with Wolves,” Wild Woman, too.  

These are their Strengths
Wild Men and Wild Women can be role models for taking the road less travelled.

These are their Weaknesses
Because they are unchecked in their sensitivities and brutal in their will to do things their own way, they can be frightening and threatening to those who live more traditionally.

Here are their Passions
Nature, festivals, poetry, singing, spirituality, and storytelling

The Merriam-Webster Definition of wild man / Wild Woman

1 a: an uncivilized person: savage

b: a person of fierce and ungovernable character

c: a person holding radical political views

Throughout the centuries, nearly all cultures have admired these strong, eccentric, impulsive men and women, evolving stories that celebrate their courage, wisdom and strength, while offering lessons to be learned from their more reckless and vengeful natures. From as early as the third millennium before Jesus – that is, some five thousand years ago, the Epic of Gilgamesh carved in stones in Sumerian and Akkadian languages told of Enkidu, a wild ass of a man, covered in hair, attune to the speech of animals, in harmony with nature, set apart from the corrupted so-called civilized societies humanity created. Enkidu, however, is ultimately initiated into love and the better aspects of human society by a woman, Shamat.  Eventually he wrestles with and is befriended by the great King Gilgamesh who benefits from Enkidu’s strength and more nature-based wisdom.

The First Wild Man in the Bible is Ishmael, son of Abraham and Hagar in Genesis 16: 11 Then the Lord’s angel said to her:

“You are now pregnant and shall bear a son;  you shall name him Ishmael,[e] For the Lord has heeded your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him;
Alongside[
f] all his kindred shall he encamp.

 The Second is Esau, twin brother to Jacob, sons of Isaac and Rebekah:  

When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first to emerge was reddish,[k] and his whole body was like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Next his brother came out, gripping Esau’s heel;[l] so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country; whereas Jacob was a simple[m] man, who stayed among the tents. 2

 We know from the twins’ saga that once Jacob steals Esau’s birthright, Esau plots to kill him but Jacob escapes, become indentured to his cousin Laban’s estate.  Jacob marries Leah and later Rachel. When he decides to embark upon a bold but cautious return to his homeland with his wives and flocks, Jacob wrestles with God as he prepares to face the consequences of his betrayal of his brother.  Esau, wild as he is, has also matures over the years and evidences a hallmark of the biblical Wildman who cooperates with God’s grace: On Jacob’s return home, the adult Esau embraces his adult brother in a great moment of reconciliation.  Esau, the original “hairy man,” expanded the biblical Wild Man/ Wild Woman prototype as one who is guided by God, in part, because of his or her earthiness.

From that episode we traverse from an unknown time and place to the second millennium (12th century around 1,200 before Jesus).  Here we encounter two Wild Women:  Deborah and her sidekick Jael whose feats are reported in the biblical book of JUDGES: Deborah from the Hebrew “bee,” as in “honeybee” that bestows both sweetness and scathing sharpness of a sting; Jael—a name derived from the root word for “mountain goat.”  Deborah summoned some of the tribes of Israel to a great battle on Mount Tabor in which an oppressive Canaanite regime was defeated.  Meanwhile, Jael seduced the Canaanite general Sisera only to kill him in his sleep. Their victories are recorded as “The Song of Deborah,” chapter five of the Book of Judges, which is hailed as the oldest extant poetry of antiquity–the antecedent and inspiration for over one third of poetic verse found in the Bible from Psalms and Proverbs, Song of Songs to prophetic poetry of Isiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  

          Quickly moving through the Bible, we note that the prophets in Books of Samuel and Kings (10th and 9th centuries) Elijah, Elisha, Nathan further develop Deborah’s political acumen, crystalizing the essentially political and social dynamics of God’s ethics.  These figures established a strong foundation upon which the three greatest prophets stand: Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah (8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.).  In today’s Isaiah reading we find the prophet and poet Isaiah’s ministry blossoming with strong political as well as spiritual directives for Israel as a nation.  By this point, the political aspect is fully harmonized with the Wild Man / Wild Woman ‘s Spiritual attributes. Those who argue religion and politics should not mix and that the Church should avoid political critique, have eschewed, whether consciously or unconsciously, this strong biblical tradition of these wild and crazy prophets.

          So, too, John the Baptist, perpetuates the consolidation of both spiritual and political in his Wild Man role.  We do well to remember on this day John’s highly critical exhortations against tetrarch Herod Antipas, as much as his insistence on the legacy of Esau:  reconciliation rooted in the essential virtue of truth.  For John commanded the citizens and political leaders of Judah to acknowledge their sins, repent and be open to a new life in harmony with God, the Law and with one another.  And who nurtured and extended this bible-based legacy to him?  Elizabeth, his mother, of course, along with his father the priest Zechariah.

          In their own way, Elizabeth and Zechariah fit the Wild One archetype as they lived “in the hills of Judah” –apart and above the great city of Jerusalem.  Their initial childlessness set them outside the norms of Jewish life and must have added to their ability to see it more critically, with an outsider’s objectivity. We don’t know the extent to which John and Jesus spent time together growing up, but both would have been learned in the prophetic legacy that reinterpreted the Torah for their age and continues to do so for our age and for centuries to come.

          As we come to communion this day celebrating Saint John the Baptist and the way he prepared people for Jesus, may we reclaim our prophetic Wild Man, Wild Woman roles to apply faith to all aspects of our lives – personal, social and political.

Isaiah proclaimed: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  John the Baptist cried, “Repent in all the ways you fail to cooperate with God’s grace, God’s plan for the earth, for the world.” And remember, Jesus called Herod “a fox,” and some of the Sadducees “Hypocrites,” reminding us that sin has not only personal but deeply social dynamics.  May we share the Eucharist today conscious that Jesus commanded that Eucharist be perpetuated through the Church through time and space so that all His followers be nourished in this truth: Communion with God is about personal transformation, and, equally so, about transformation of the world.  A Wild idea indeed.

 

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