Those nesting Russian Dolls


You know the matryoshka.  It is a set of wooden dolls in decreasing sizes placed one inside another.  They come from a Russian word meaning little matron and are often intricately painted.  They are everywhere in my grandchildren’s toy box, with at least one piece always missing.  They aren’t smashed, like the American pieta.  Instead they are far from each other, in different toy boxes, orphaned and alone.

When together, they have a cohesion of the adult with the child. They represent order, the kind we can make without much trouble.  They amuse us with the ease with which they fit together.  Wilderness represents a different and difficult disorder, the kind that we cannot unmake without a lot of trouble.  How do you find your way back to the car without your cell phone?  Why does one person have two cell phones in her pocket and another has none?  What is the way home?  How dark will it get before we get there?  Will we ever find the missing piece and make the toy whole again?  Do we really have to put the toothpaste back in the toothpaste tube?  Wild internal places have a lot missing.  You can’t get there from there or here from here or there from here.

In the Russian Dolls, our largest cohesion melts to one piece from its origin in our smallest and most original self.  In the wilderness of the fragmented pieta, our Russian dolls are scattered all over the table.  One half of the American population is lost to the other half.  We don’t fit together or nest together any more.  We feel like we have a lost a piece or two or that someone is putting our puzzle together using two different dolls.  They trick us into thinking they are the same or that they fit together.  We try and try but they don’t “work.”  We wonder why someone didn’t pick up the toys sooner or take better care of them so there wouldn’t be so many pieces all about.

Outside of our own fragmentations, writ large for many, we are one terrorist incident or one climate incident away from truly authoritarian government.  Saying the Jihadist narrative out loud, that we really are mean and disoriented people, could actually cause the very terror some say we are trying to prevent.

The Social Psychologist, Eric Ericson wrote biographies of Luther and Gandhi  and argued that each leader is remembered because of their relationship with their times.  He also said that identity was a sense of consistency over time, like dolls that get incrementally bigger and live together on a shelf.  Ericson’s leaders embodied the conflicts of their moments.  They incarnated themselves in the disturbances of their days.  They represented the rivalries of the past with an emerging future.

Our congregation celebrated the 499th anniversary of the Reformation in 2016.  We did so because we are pretty sure that Reformation is over and we want to get on with what’s next.  We need a larger doll for our teenage doll.  We need her to grow up.   We who have this new century’s conflicts – religious, moral, economic, demographic, spiritual – written on our own wild untamed hearts can only hope that the next Reformation is beginning soon.  We need to collect ourselves, put ourselves back together, find a renewable source of energy, put that power in the bottom of our nesting dolls self and its misplaced identity.

I have decided to write collects for the wilderness while.  You know what a collect is, right?  It is a one-sentence prayer that coheres the lections for the day.  It is usually led by the psalm.  Thomas Cranmer’s collects, written in 1928, were gathered precisely because of trouble in the wilderness of politics.  I’ll write the collects and nest the dolls as rituals of return.   I will collect the pieces.

The conflict that lives in me is the lost pieces.  The fragmentations.  The longing I have is for a mature patriotic wholeness.  I long for a spiritual oneness, that joins Jesus in refusing to have an enemy. 

In going global and social on the matter of wilderness, I intend no disrespect for those lost in the woods.  Instead I write out of great respect for the wilderness, so great that I want to understand why it is pioneering internally in my time, so long after the birth of a halfway decent nation.  Wild is having a debut, a coming out, among us.  It comes in pieces and in waves.  It is a great sense of something missing and that the parts don’t fit together any more.  It is sometimes more painful than being stranded on a desert island.  Then again maybe it is being stranded, left behind, unwanted, unnecessary, just an old piece of discard.  It is an adventure in the making, like the country itself.