In the first part of the 20th century, Chinese Christians were beginning to rebel against what they saw as imperial, ‘outsider’ missionary religion encroaching into their territory. This was a novel development, as the 19th-century yielded Chinese nationals opposed to all forms of Christianity, and Chinese believers who more or less assimilated Western culture. Sincere Christians who weren’t at the same time Western were a rarity—until a new movement swept onto the scene.
One indigenous Chinese mystic and ‘church planter,’ Nee Tao Shu, was so vigilant to purify the faith of Western influence that he was given the name ‘The Watchman.’ Watchman Nee gave a series of addresses to a packed-out audience in 1938, which ended up circulating—first serialized in magazines, and then in book form—from the Far East to the West.
The talks? Were eventually called The Normal Christian Life. Here’s how Nee opened his address:
What is the normal Christian life? We do well at the outset to ponder this question. The object of these studies is to show that it is something very different from the life of the average Christian. Indeed a consideration of the written word of God—of the Sermon on the Mount for example—should lead us to ask whether such a life has ever in act been lived upon the earth, save only by the Son of God, himself. But in that last saving clause lies immediately the answer to our question.
The Apostle Paul gives us his own definition of the Christian life in Galatians 2:20. It is “no longer I, but Christ.” Here he is not stating something special or peculiar—a high level of Christianity. He is, we believe, presenting God’s normal for a Christian, which can be summarized in the words: I live no longer, but Christ lives his life in me.
Watchman Nee wanted to challenge his Christian hearers, to both expand their desire for what’s possible, while lowering the barrier for realizing the same. And what does he see as possible? Later in this same address he says:
Do you know, my friends, that the Spirit within you is very God? Oh that our eyes were opened to see the greatness of God’s gift! Oh that we might realize the vastness of the resources secreted in our own hearts! I could shout with joy as I think, “The Spirit who dwells within me is no mere influence, but a living Person; He is very God. The infinite God is within my heart!” I am at a loss to convey to you the blessedness of this discovery, that the Holy Spirit dwelling within my heart is a Person.
According to Nee, how does the seeker recognize this God-consciousness, this Spirit dwelling at the heart of everything? Nee accomplishes both expanding expectations and then solidifying these by re-framing them as the forgotten or undiscovered ‘normal’ that his co-faithful could real-ize in their lives.
At ReWilder, we’re taking a similar line of inquiry to see what’s possible for us. Before we even ask the questions Nee was asking—ie, what is possible as a Christian or a spiritual person—we want to ask an even more fundamental question:
What is the normal human life?
Our human development is a Pleistocene adaptation, when our species as we know it made its debut. We inherited from our primal ancestors a way of perception, of orienting ourselves to this world.
There are certain experiences common to the human race; these form a biological baseline for what it means to be human:
‘Goosebumps’ (when our hair was raised to protect from the cold).
Better eyesight, lowered olfactory sensors, heightened touch, increased emotions.
“Unlike most mammals with olfactory dominance, primates are visually dominant. Primate brains are rewired to subordinate sensory inputs—haptic, auditory, and olfactory, to vision. Seeing enabled us to move rapidly through the trees, dodging predators, and finding prey alike…
Additionally there was a decline in the olfactory bulb…allowing for a larger subcortical emotion center in the brain… Additionally an animal moving from the trees, must feel a heightened sense of touch, texture, weight and strength…”
Who are we, as a species? We find a picture of a sensitive creature in its earliest settings…
At last moving out from the forests into the open country. Gathering grass seed, finding big carcasses to scavenge. It is likely we developed the ability to stand upright as a way of looking out in the tall grass as we quickly sifted through a carcass.
As CL Rawlins put it: “I’m a primate evolved for foraging the African Savannah. My basics—legs, eyes, hands—are suited to light scavenging. My eyes are good at picking up quick movements, the flop of vultures, from a lion kill or the scuttle of rabbits into brush. My hands are good for wrenching the joints of carcasses, prizing roots from the earth, plucking leaves and berries. Like my hands, my digestion is able to handle a wide variety of things.”
We would add to this list that with or without language (prior to 70,000 years ago) we are a social animal—utilizing signals and facial features to work together to corner a prey. Indeed foraging enabled us to develop the basic activities that would make possible to hunt together to kill large mammals and eventually even form larger tribes.
Night restlessness, typical of primates, is a precaution against predators.
Our craving of fat, salt, and sugars is a sign of absences of such nutrients across vast swathes of our species history.
We share, cooperate, carry, keep kinship ties, divide labors sexually, make tools, and have long memory. All of which served us across the long history of humanity.
But the core and essential element of this is what we call: Ontogeny, or the genesis of being. The regular and scheduled development of both physical and psychological elements. Human ontogeny, at each stage of development is the programmed movements through our evolution.
Modern psychology tends to portray us in self-centric terms as individual lives, beliefs, affiliations, rather than defining the self as the relationship to others—lives, species, and planet. Human ontogeny proceeds along these outwardly-intertwined lines—the self is in relationship to the world that birthed it, and it longs for what it was made for: to breathe, run, and relate—here and now.