The classic hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” always makes me joke in the sacristy before Mass, “There’s a Wildness in God’s Mercy,” then during a dull moment in church I thought, “Truest words are spoken in jest. There is actually a wildness in God’s mercy.”

What is “wildness?” Well, the first thing I think of is unpredictability. I don’t know what’s coming next with God. In fact, whenever I think I do know what’s coming next, I can be pretty sure that it’s not God at that point, because my own ideas of what should come next (and what is coming next) are never big enough. God’s mercy is wilder than that. 

So, there’s this sort of wild unpredictability. Things are open ended. The universe is open ended. Reality is rubbery. There’s more flex in it than I thought. Just when I thought he was coming in grandeur he comes as a peasant child on a wintry night. Just when I thought he was my friend and buddy he appears as the Lord of Glory and Judge of all.

The second idea of the “wildness of God’s mercy” is that wildness is strange. There is a weirdness in God’s mercy. When we encounter God, it was not what we thought. It’s not only wild. It’s weird. It’s wacky. It’s wonderful. 

This wild strangeness is also frightening. Going to God is going to a place that is disturbing and unsettling. Aslan is not a tame lion.

There’s also a wildness in God’s mercy like a wild child. There is passion. There is a wild, carefree joie de vivre. There is the wildness of joy and abandonment and creativity. God’s mercy is playful. It is mischievous. It is subversive and wild and free.

The little child St. Thérèse said in what I’m sure was a playful way, “There is no virtue in doing what is reasonable.” I like that!

In other words, Jesus calls us to step out of the boat and walk on the waves. Jesus calls us to “hate our father and mother and sister and brother” for the sake of the kingdom of God. He calls us to take up our cross and says wild things like “the last shall be first and the first last” or “to those who have much more shall be given and to those who have not it shall be taken away” or “I do not come to bring peace but a sword.”

Finally, if there’s a wildness in God’s mercy there is also a wilderness in God’s mercy. See how the holy men always go out into the wilderness to pray? That’s where they find God: out in the wilderness with the wild beasts. Where the wild things are.

There in the wilderness God’s voice is most wildly heard. There in the cave—not in the earthquake, wind and fire, but in the still, small voice. A voice more wild and unexpected and terrifying in its demands than anything safe or predictable or tame.