Holy Spirit and Wild geese

 (Amended from the original)

David Clark
31 May 2009

St. Columba……

The symbol of the wild goose for the Holy Spirit comes from the island of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, and it is the ancient Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. 

It wasn't that the ancient Irish and Scots didn't know about doves, the more traditional biblically-originating symbol of the Spirit. 
 The name of the sixth-century founder of the abbey at Iona, the man who first brought Christianity to Scotland, Columba, means 'dove'. 

 But, as lovely as doves might be, Celtic Christians decided the wild goose was a far more apt symbol of the Holy Spirit. 
This one,( in our church!) cast in a studio in Ireland where Columba originated, and purchased at the abbey on Iona which he founded, hangs above the pulpit around which are carved the ominous words, "Where there is no vision, the people perish". 

Both the goose and those words are a reminder and a warning to preachers and to the preached-to.  They are reminders that the Spirit of God cannot be tamed or contained.  They are reminders, when it comes to God, to expect the unexpected.
Wild geese are, well, wild.  That is, untamed, uncontrolled.  They make a lot of noise, and have a habit of biting those who try to contain or capture them. 
 That has been the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit through two thousand years.  Time and again when theology and God have appeared to be firmly in the control of hierarchies and religious establishment, the Spirit of God has broken free – and has often bitten those who tried to prevent it happening.
The beginnings of monasticism in the fourth century, monastic reforms in the eleventh century and movements such as the Franciscans in the late Middle Ages, the sixteenth century Reformation, the eighteenth century Wesleyan movement, the twentieth century ecumenical movement, feminist and liberation theologies and the charismatic movement, have all reflected the untamed, uncontrollable spirit of God.  Wayside preachers, radical reformers, visionary women, risk-taking adventurers creating new settlements, scholars exploring beyond the boundaries of orthodoxy, caring helpers going beyond the boundaries of the safe and appropriate,  have changed the face of the church over the centuries, empowered by the Spirit more appropriately depicted as wild goose than cooing dove..

Geese make a lot of noise when you disturb them. That is why sometimes they have been used as a kind of early warning system.  There’s an ancient story that it was the loud cackling of a flock of geese that alerted sentries in Rome to an invading army creeping up to the walls in the middle of the night. 

Throughout Christian history, the clamour of people and movements have expressed the demand for reformation and transformation, seeking to recapture the original Christian vision. 

Whenever the church has settled into complacent institutional somnolence, Spirit-filled people have warned of the dangers of believing that the gospel can be contained and controlled.

The song of the Spirit-goose is not sweet to many because its insistence on renewal and change, justice and truth is sometimes harsh and threatens what is often called ‘the peace and unity of the church’. 

 Those upon whom the Spirit rests are forced by that Spirit to become like wild geese – noisy, passionate and courageous advocates of the gospel’s radical demands. 
They have often been reviled, ostracised, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, or killed by the power-holders.

The wild goose is one of the most communal of creatures, drawing its life from the flock.  God’s Spirit is not a spirit of individualism, but of community.  In an age when the spirit of individualism is a supreme ideology both outside and inside the church, it is worth reminding ourselves that the testimony of the earliest Christians, and of Christians down the ages, is that the Spirit brings community. 

That was a primary message of the Pentecost narrative.  The Spirit, when it is holy Spirit, brings people together, to support and travel life’s journey with each other. 

From observing the behaviors of wild geese, there are five lessons about being community, about quality of relationships.

The first is that flying in the V formation gives geese a seventy-one per cent increase in flying range, with flapping wings creating an updraft for the bird following.  Flying is a co-operative business, 

The second is that the lead goose in the V formation does not, of course, experience this updraft and so tires faster than the others.  When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose takes over the lead.Leadership is to be shared and not go on indefinitely

The third lesson is that when a goose falls out of the formation, it feels the drag and resistance of flying alone, and quickly gets back into the formation. 

Fourth, when a wild goose is sick or wounded, or shot down, two others follow it to help and protect it until it recovers or dies, while the others continue to fly on.  When the goose recovers or dies, a new formation is created, heading in the same direction as the first.

And fifth, when geese are flying in formation, those flying behind honk to encourage those in front to keep up speed. 

Three other relationship lessons from the wild goose – first, if we have as much sense as a goose, we’ll stay with those who are headed where we also want to go, and we will accept and we will give help. 

 A second is to stand by each other in the difficult times as well as when we are strong, and that the direction and impetus of the community can continue even when some fall by the wayside.  What’s more, it is possible for the direction to be picked up again and continued by those who have been left behind.

Finally, we’d better make sure our honking is encouraging!  And let me tell you, it is!  I hear many horror stories from colleagues about whining, moaning, criticising members of congregations

Wind, shining sun, mother eagle, bright cloud, kind fire, love of friends, mother, father, friend, lover…  These and many more are images of the Holy Spirit of God.  But consider the wild goose and be encouraged.  Amen.

I must say I like that piece. Tom

Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
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.
© Mary Oliver. Online Source


Anonymous said…
This is really good. Exactly what I needed to read today. My friend, Holy Spirit, directed me to it. It has meaning for my life today, in the place I find myself. Thank you for writing and e-publishing it.
Unknown said…
Beautiful Thankyou. As I stepped outside seeking discernment...do I or don't I? 50 or more called and flew overhead. Strong and directed pulled by their innate knowing of where they are going and going together as one.Thankyou.
Anonymous said…
This post provided wisdom I am praying for. Although you posted it awhile back, it's still bearing fruit! Thank you for this interesting and well balanced observation about the Holy Spirit at work in community.
Unknown said…
I dreamed about 2 geese last night and this was helpful insight!
M.Zacher said…
Written well. Thankyou for your time. Appreciate it.
Anonymous said…
I had a Prophetic dream I was given a full message from your teaching and writing about the gees my dream was about 2 gees.
Thanks so much for sharing
Claudette Ross said…
WOW!! this is just amazing. Thank you for this Blog!! AMEN
Anonymous said…
I had a dream about 50 or more geese flying overhead. This message spoke to me. Thank you for posting.
Emma said…
This post has provided my husband and I great insight. The spirit was recently revealed to me through a v formation of geese, and provided us with an answer to prayer. Thank you for your wisdom. This further affirms our path.
Unknown said…
Had a v formation fly by over head going south today, then I read your message.this affirming post holds a special place in my heart. Thank you. -
Just jessie
John Naughton said…
Lately I've been doing a novena to the Holy Spirit. I see totems on streets nightly, aware of the symbolism. I started hearing geese at 3-4AM. Remembering your document I knew God had heard me.

I first read this over 2 years ago but it stood out with radical concepts.

Well done
chantz said…
its easter vigil,morning, was looking out my window that over looks a very old cemetary,was thinking about jesus when a very large goose walked into sight, turned and looked my way, walked in a circle, then took flight. praise jesus.
Anonymous said…
All these years after this post, I am grateful for finding the symbolism behind the goose. Thank you for that. However, the post went off the rails wherein it stated that the protestant revolution, Twentieth Century ecumenical councils, and feminist and liberation theologies were signs of the "untamed" spirit of God. What odious nonsense. The Holy Spirit does not contradict Divine Revelation and Sacred Tradition. "Exploring beyond the boundaries of orthodoxy" is precisely why the Church has lost its moral authority to bring Jesus Christ to the world. Souls have been endangered by the lie that the Church's teachings can change when the "spirit is a movin'". I hope that the author's insights have improved since 2009 and that he publicly corrects the errors in his original essay, if he has not already done so.

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