Our flat-roofed fixer-upper house is located on a small lake. Every year we watch a new spring flock of baby geese grow from excited balls of fuzz to awkward and indolent teens by midsummer and turn into mostly disciplined young flyers eager to migrate south in the fall.
In 2011, one gosling was deformed. His wrist joints twisted and his wings stuck out like an airplane. The syndrome is called, “Angel Wings” and there is no cure. I named the afflicted young male goose, “Mitch”.
In early fall, as Mitch’s siblings quickly learned to madly flap, take running steps off the bank, launch themselves into the air and fly, Mitch splashed again and again into the lake. His father and siblings took turns running next to him, honking their encouragement. But Mitch just couldn’t do it. As the gander advanced the rest of the flock to taking flight from the water, Mitch’s mother kept working with him individually, but Mitch’s trajectory always went down instead of up.
By Thanksgiving when they usually migrated, there was great disharmony in the flock. The gander was taking the brood on longer test flights away from the lake, but his mother refused to leave young Mitch alone. Finally after two days of loud argumentative honking in mid December, the flock left the lake, leaving the young deformed goose all by himself in the rapidly freezing water. As it started snowing, the sad young goose took refuge under a neighbors deck by their blue paddle boat. –And I researched where to buy cracked corn.
But the next morning , I couldn’t find him. Mitch was gone. During the long months of winter we wondered what happened to Mitch. We shouldn’t have worried. In the spring, a fat and happy Mitch suddenly appeared back on our lake, welcoming his parents and siblings back home with joyful honks. A later report from one of our neighbors was that Mitch had overwintered with a flock of ducks on a nearby creek that typically flowed all winter. Unable to fly to a winter haven, Mitch had walked there instead! He had a plan the whole time. (This story appeared in the online version of Presbyterians Today. Summer of 2015 and ended here.)
In Celtic Christianity, the Wild Goose is used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. While many of us think of the Holy Spirit as a dove, our Scottish spiritual ancestors knew better. Geese are creatures that live in community. –While a pair of doves will be off on their own building their nest only in the quietest of areas, geese live in a flock and will live and work together their whole lives. For example, when geese go to an area to forage for food, one goose will not lower their head to eat. Their job instead is to stand up straight and to keep looking around keeping an eye out for the next thing to happen to them. After the flock eats for a while another goose will take up the watch position and allow that former guard goose a turn to eat. This unique sentinel behavior in geese has been noticed and exploited. The Romans often used flocks of geese as watchdogs. Their system of always having one goose on duty, scanning the horizon proved to be not only beneficial to the lives of the geese, but to the humans who allied themselves with the flock.
At the Scottish Iona community, where the symbol of the Wild Goose is prominently used for the Holy Spirit, there is a phrase that often accompanies the image of a wild goose. The phrase is “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. To me this brings to mind that one sentinel goose, keeping a lookout for the next thing to come around the corner. It means keeping an eye out for what the next thing is. As a flock guided by the Holy Spirit, let us pay attention to what is happening around us. Let us be prepared with a plan for when our winter comes. Let’s have a vision of where we are going to go and what we are going to do with the people and the potential that surrounds us. –For if a simple goose can do that, so can we.