I hiked out to wild horses in the Owyhees this afternoon. After trotting away at first, they turned and tried their usual tactic: charging to intimidate me. I stood my ground and made this photo. Thomas Oord
Thoughts on the Interiority of Wild Horses In appreciation of Thomas Oord's Photograph Thomas Oord is a theologian, photographer, father, husband, and hiker. He's more than these things, but not less.
As a theologian he is among the prime pioneers of an open and relational theology. In this kind of theology emphasis is placed on God's loving openness to the world, including all living beings, and also on God's openness to the future, because the future is open, even for God.
Thomas Oord also emphasizes the fact that all living beings have what he calls "interiority." We can love ourselves and others as subjects worthy of our own love and also subjects loved by God. In his words:
We make better sense of both simple and complex creatures if we place priority upon mentality, response, choice, valuing, and more. The mechanization mentality ignores or even denies these capacities fundamental to organisms. We must place interiority before mechanism....Seeing existence as comprised of subjects with interiority provides a conceptual framework for understanding love for all others, human and nonhuman. This interior dimension is a way of talking about our feeling and expressing love. (Interiority over Mechanism, Sept. 13, 2019)
So what of the interiority of wild horses? How does God "love" them?
In at least two ways. By feeling their feelings in a sympathetic way and also by providing fresh possibilities for responding to the situations at hand. "Feeling the feelings in a sympathetic way" is another name for empathy. From an open and relational perspective, God feels the feelings of wild horses in a way that is sympathetic to their well-being. In response to what is felt, God then offers fresh possibilities or, in the language of process theology, initial aims.
These fresh possibilities are for satisfying forms of beauty in the immediacy of the moment and relevant future. Beauty here does not mean prettiness. It refers to emotional states of harmonious intensity and intense harmony. The fresh possibilities are experienced as what Whitehead calls the initial phase of a subjective aim.
Toward what do wild horses aim?
Consider the magnificent photograph above. Thomas Oord notes that the horses were trying to intimidate him. Their aim was for satisfying survival in community with one another and not with Thomas Oord. Often this is our human aim as well. We need boundaries and, dare I say, borders in order to enjoy whatever forms of beauty are available to us.
But as we enter into the photo we cannot help but sense more than fear of strangers at work in the horses' lives. We sense vibrancy and aliveness; what two pioneers of interfaith spirituality. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, call call zeal or zest for life. In Process and Reality Whitehead calls it self-enjoyment.
Yes, the horses are enjoying themselves amid the perceived danger. There is joy in their self-enjoyment maybe a sense of justice, as in "Leave us alone, intruder." There's so much in a leap.
What is so important is for us today to realize, indeed to see, that other animals, too, have their spirituality. Their "faith" as it were. It may or may not be faith in God, but it is inspired and animated by God's initial aims. It is faith in the possibility of satisfying forms of beauty relative to the situation at hand.
Only when we recognize our closest biological and spiritual kin, in this case horses, as kindred spirits in a larger web of life, with lives and faiths of their own, can we become fully human in a generous way, realizing own potential as friends of the earth. Open and relational theologies rightly imagine God as one who beckons us into such friendship.
Friendship need not be romanticized. We still seek to protect ourselves from the charge of wild horses. Thomas Oord did as much, by standing his ground. But we wouldn't photograph them in the first place, if we did not find them so beautiful and, in some deep sense, our kin in the struggle and perhaps also the joy of living. There's some prayer in all this. Not so much petitionary prayer as contemplative prayer.
Legend has it that on the seventh day of creation, God became a photographer. That is, God knelt down in the heavenly field of love and gazed at the whole of the cosmos with all its diversity and beauty, saying that was all very good.
Thomas Oord helps us join God in laying down in this field. We partake of the seventh day, which is, of course, every day, if we have eyes to see. A needed openness of our time is for human openness to what is wild and different and beautiful in our next of kin: wild horses, for example. In her poem The Summer Day Mary Oliver asks: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life." Couldn't one answer be: "I'm going to enjoy the wildness of wild horses, knowing that, in their wildness and also my own, God is to be found."