This post was written by Hilary Ann Golden, MDiv. Hilary joins us in each liturgical season this year through Ordinary Time, offering insight into how we can integrate the liturgical calendar into our own journeys. We’ll hear from Hilary again next week as the season of Ordinary Time begins. -Lacy
Have you ever encountered a goose at close range?
My good friend Letha and I have a practice of telling each other stories — especially if the stories involve really odd, hilarious, or sometimes terrifying elements. One of my most favorite stories that she has shared with me involves a near death (ok, that might be a slight exaggeration) encounter with a swarm (flock? gaggle?) of wild geese. While walking to her internship site along a path by a creek, she came upon some geese that were on the path, blocking her way to the building. Assuming they would move aside as she got closer, she kept walking and was met with an outburst of obnoxious goose honking. Her immediate reaction was to feel scared and nervous – to brace herself for an attack and plan her self-defense. And what form of self-defense did she choose? To swing around her giant bag in an effort to ward off her feathered enemies. I’ve carried that big heavy bag before. Those geese never had a chance.
Last summer my brother Chris and I were driving across the country. In the late afternoon on the third day of the trip, we found ourselves wandering around the city of Denver. We ended up in City Park in the heart of downtown Denver. City Park has a small lake at the center of it and along the shore of the lake dozens of geese were traipsing about, honking and carrying on. My brother had the brilliant idea to try and touch a goose. So, he crouched down and in a very stealth-like manner, inched his way toward a few of the geese that were standing nearby. I’ll spare you the details and instead tell you that he was rather unsuccessful in this venture. I’ll never forget his foolish attempts to touch one of the geese — they elusively and unpredictability led him on a literal “wild goose chase.”
Today the Christian Church celebrates and remembers one of it’s most significant yet undervalued events: Pentecost. The day of Pentecost, recounted in Acts 2, is an odd event in the life of the Church. It is our birth story. And it is a story filled with a variety of emotions, a diversity of people, and a multitude of implications. A quick read through the first section of Acts 2 reveals some of the surprise that resulted; words like “suddenly,” “rush,” “violent,” “bewildered,” “amazed,” “astonished,” and “perplexed” are used to describe the event, the crowd’s reactions, and the Spirit Herself. This descent – or pouring upon – of the Spirit on the people was not a tidy, comfortable, or tame gesture. It was quite the opposite.
Many Christian traditions employ the Dove as the primary symbol of the Holy Spirit. And for good reason — it is a Dove, afterall, that descended upon Jesus during his baptism. The Dove also represents “peace” or “shalom,” which are essential tenets of Christian identity.
Celtic Christians, on the other hand, chose the Wild Goose as a way to talk about the Spirit. Celtic Christians often forged their symbols out of the ordinary, daily things of the earth that they saw in front of them. For them, the untamed, uncontrollable, erratic nature of the Wild Goose more closely characterized the movement of the Spirit than did a peaceful, tranquil Dove. A Wild Goose is always on the move, always doing unexpected things; it is loud, passionate, sometimes frightening, and certainly unsettling. This has been more like my experience of the Spirit than the peaceful, tranquil Dove.
“A Wild Goose is always on the move, always doing unexpected things;
it is loud, passionate, sometimes frightening, and certainly unsettling.”
And so we return to the story of Pentecost. As I consider the events of that day, I see congruence between the story and the this Celtic understanding of the Spirit as Wild Goose. I imagine the people crowding together, attempting to come close and striving to “touch” the Wild Goose, only to find that in a “rush” and a “violent wind,” the Spirit had already swept through and left a beautiful, chaotic mess. I love one of the last verses in the story, which says, “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?'”
This story encourages us to expect that God will do the unexpected. It reminds us of the surprise, bewilderment, and astonishment that rattles our bones when the Spirit of God has descended upon us. And I love the way the Wild Goose image of the Spirit of God draws us into community and relationship. By creating a holy mess of confusion, the Spirit leaves us with two choices: give up and remain confused, or work together to find meaning.
“By creating a holy mess of confusion, the Spirit leaves us with two choices:
give up and remain confused, or work together to find meaning.”
May the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
bring fire to the earth
so that the presence of God
may be seen
in a new light,
in new places,
in new ways.
May our own hearts
burst into flame
so that no obstacle,
no matter how great,
ever obstructs the message
of the God within each of us.
May we come to trust
the Word of God in our heart,
to speak it with courage,
to follow it faithfully
and to fan it to flame in others.
May the Jesus
who filled women
with his Holy Spirit
fill the world and the church
with new respect
for women’s power and presence.
Give me, Great God,
a sense of the Breath of Spirit
within me as I…
(State the intention in your own life at this time for which you are praying.)
Following the lead of Sister Joan Chittister, how would you complete this prayer that she offers?
“Give me, Great God, a sense of the Breath of Spirit within me as I…”