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Spirit Wilding

On April 19, 1989 the newspapers reported that a gang of young thugs had assaulted and raped a young woman jogger in New York‘s Central Park. According to a police investigation, the culprits were gangs of teenagers who would assault strangers as part of an activity that became known as “wilding.” You can imagine my surprise when a friend accused me of wilding—Spirit Wilding. Now that is an oxymoron, a combination of contradictory terms if there ever was one!

The Spirit had inspired me to see our Eucharistic Celebrations as Jesus’ End Plan to create the Beloved Community through a Love Meal. So I  shared with my friend my practice at the Kiss of Peace at Mass to leave my pew and walk up the aisle to greet people with a handshake or a hug for those who had suffered the loss of a loved one or who needed support.

My friend pointed out that my fellow celebrants expected no movement from behind the pews, the priest wanted to get through the liturgy and that I had disturbed the prevailing sense of order. “That was Spirit Wilding!” he exclaimed. What a revealing insight!

Jesus, the Model. Once the shock of the term, Spirit Wilding, had worn off, I realized that Jesus was the best example of Spirit Wilding. The Spirit was a constant presence in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ whole life gave full expression to the Spirit within him and he disturbed the institutions and authorities of his time. Jesus radically questioned every sphere of life—political, economic, social and religious, according to Fr. Albert Nolan, OP, in his book, Jesus Before Christianity.

Jesus’ life was a life of Spirit Wilding. Jesus fought the group conformity of his times that was the only measure of truth and virtue. He did not follow John the Baptist’s example of preaching a baptism of repentance. He discerned through the Spirit that something else was necessary—to preach and practice a life of compassion for the poor, sinners and the sick, the nobodies of society. He treated people as people, and that included all the women in his life.

Through the Spirit, Jesus discerned that one of the basic causes of oppression, discrimination and suffering in that society was the loveless religion of the religious authorities. In the end, it was Jesus’ Spirit Wilding that led to his death.

Not Irrational Exuberance. So what is Spirit Wilding? It definitely is not irrational exuberance. Usually a life-transforming experience or a God-experience ushers us into a life of Spirit Wilding. For Jesus, it was his baptism in the River Jordan. In that moment the Spirit brought forth the virtues of radical faith, radical hope and radical love that were innate in Jesus at his incarnation. This transformation drove Jesus to commit to his messianic mission, publicly sharing the Good News with others.

Let us look at the experience of Spirit Wilding more closely and discern some guidelines for our own Spirit Wilding, if not in our entire lives as Jesus did but in some area of our lives:

  • For starters, there is a stepping out of line to achieve a greater good. Unintentionally we disrupt order. Order imposed by rituals that have become church services rather than spiritual experiences. Or movements that have become locked into their methodology. Or institutions that have become ends in themselves rather than servants. Or societies that impose conformity in life styles and life visions.
  • Our action has to start with the Spirit. The Spirit gifts us with the vision and the energy to step out of line.
  • Our action has to be genuinely loving. The danger is that our False Self may be looking for some self-satisfaction. So we must discern whether our heart movement is a holy one or an unholy one calculated to achieve self-assertion.
  • The nature of the joy we experience reveals our intentions. If the joy is one of reaching out to others in a caring and attentive way, our heart movement is a holy one. If our joy is one of self-satisfaction, we had better rethink our action.
  • We sense that we are operating outside our comfort zone—reaching out beyond our ordinary capacity, and that we need the Spirit to energize us.
  • Since the Spirit inspired our life vision, we must invoke the Spirit to awaken our desire to live that vision.

The Challenge. Perhaps what Jesus has taught us is that institutional pathology is more dangerous and destructive than personal pathology. By their very nature, society’s institutions such as church, business, government and education exercise authority and their decisions impact many people. People living a life of Spirit Wilding are unacceptable to them. The result? Change or transformation does not come to institutions very easily, as we can see from the results of the Vatican ll Council.

We must look to the Spirit to help us critique our institutions. For me, the Church has lost the concept of Jesus’ Love Meal in our Eucharistic Celebrations. My mission is to raise awareness that the Eucharist is at the heart of our faith and at the heart of our spirituality. You too may be called upon to let the Spirit break out in one area of your life and engage in Spirit Wilding. That will be your apostolic action or evangelization!