The Common Good
June 2012

Chasing the Wild Goose

by Cathleen Falsani | June 2012

Scripture teaches that the Spirit of God was in that still, small voice. But every now and again the Spirit arrives with flapping wings and honking, too. Like that old gray goose.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.

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—From “Wild Geese”
by Mary Oliver

Late June. School’s out. The days are long, their pace slowed—languid and languorous, in the best sense of those descriptors. Could there be a better time to embark on a wild goose chase? I think not.

As luck would have it, just after the summer solstice this June, fans of such adventures—devotees of that sacred, untamable squawking bird—will gather on a farm in North Carolina for a weekend’s worth of music, art, the exchange of ideas, and the pursuit of the Spirit at the (aptly named) Wild Goose Festival.

The fest, a cousin of the U.K.’s venerable Greenbelt festival now in its second year on this side of the pond, takes its name from the Irish An Gé Fiáin (“the wild goose,” pronounced “On Geh Fee-an”), which some folks believe is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit traceable to ancient Celtic Christianity.

The idea (and it is a provocative one) is that rather than a dove, the Holy Spirit is more like one of those big, gray geese—wild, unruly, coming and going as it pleases, announcing its arrival with honking, bluster, and ample attitude.

Rather than the gentle dove, this (alleged) ancient Celtic image of the Holy Spirit is raucous—as uncaged as the wind that lifts its muscular wings.

ORGANIZERS OF THE Wild Goose Festival, which runs June 21 to 24 in Shakori Hills, North Carolina (not far from Durham), describe the eponymous fowl and its spiritual import this way: “The Wild Goose ... evokes unpredictability, beauty, and grace. The festival resonates with this image because we recognize that in the current climate of religious and political division and lack of civility, embracing the creative and open nature of our faith is perhaps our greatest asset for rebuilding and strengthening our relationships with each other, with our enemies, with our stories, our questions, and the other. In that spirit, in an informal setting, and in the context of creative and respectful relationships, we invite you to imagine a new world with us.”

Hebrew scripture teaches us that the Spirit of God was not in the earthquake or the windstorm or the fire, but instead in the whisper—that still, small voice. Most assuredly it is. But I cannot help believing that every now and again the Spirit arrives with flapping wings and honking, too. Like that old gray goose.

In this acrimonious election year, as wars and rumors of wars rage around us, as the economy dips and stumbles like a drunkard and climate change makes the idea of a temperate North Carolina summer evening seem like the stuff of magical thinking, I’m game for a wild goose chase.

As for me and my house, we’ll be packing our flip flops, pup tents, and a few pairs of finely calibrated spiritual binoculars and heading for the farm, in search of An Gé Fiáin and the startling grace with which it surely will descend on the party.

Honk Honk!

Cathleen Falsani (@GodGrrl), web editor for Sojourners, is author of Belieber: Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber.

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