Our breath prayer in Circle of Hope this week has been “Holy Sprit/Open our hearts.” It reminded me of this poem and reflection from a few years back. I’ve now recorded it and added it to my soundcloud.
I don’t think I can tell people enough that in Celtic iconography the Holy Spirit is often represented as a wild goose. To the Celts of ancient Ireland and Scotland, Ah Geadh-Glas (Wild Goose) was a more apt description of their experience of the Holy Spirit. How caged and docile is your experience with the Holy Spirit, how unlike a dove?
I’m sure if I studied the mourning doves that come to the feeder in my back yard I could find the appropriate mystery and wildness in them too, but geese have just spoken to me more in my life.
I started my early rising prayer life at Eastern University with the Canada Geese on the pond there. I trained the ducks to eat out of my hand, but the geese would have nothing to do with me. Only the nesting mothers would allow me near them and they scared me with their violent hisses. I’ve come back to the morning geese this fall because, again, I live by a pond (though this one calls itself a lake).
The geese are there waiting for me when I rise and then I wait for them to leave the water, which they do every morning in the fall. Watching and waiting for them to go is the most wondrous part of them. It’s the thing about them that makes them best in my opinion to tell the Holy Spirit’s story. The geese talk about leaving for a while and the interval of conversation is not always the same. At first I thought it must be the angle of the sun–they usually leave soon after the sun crests whatever treeline it rises over, but as I paid attention I could tell that it wasn’t nearly so exact.
The fun of it is I can tell when they are leaving but I’m never sure of the moment they will go. They flick their heads and grunt at each other, seemingly consulting one another about the every day revelation that it is time to fly to the best grass nearby. Scientists have studied this phenomenon and measured it. One study reported that this period of consultation lasted anywhere from nine to twenty-two minutes.
The wild goose then is a perfect symbol for the Holy Spirit because they are common enough (At least in Ireland and Scotland and Haddon Township, NJ where I live ), but they are also unpredictable and elusive. They can even bite you. Following the Holy Spirit can feel like an actual wild goose chase, yes, but if we give up trying to catch Her and instead be contented in watching and listening when She happens to be there in the morning (and who knows for how long?), we will love Her and She will shape us. And in many, many mornings She will still be wild but we may just be tamed.
Here’s a poem I wrote for Her.
O Holy Sprit, Ah Geadh-Glas,
I am familiar with your leavings,
Though uncertain of your path.
I could tire of the finding–
Leave your joy here in the grass,
But I’ll marvel at your going,
Water-walking noisy splash!
And I’ll wonder at your flying.
Flocked with kin above me, pass!
Make me happy, wild and singing,
O Holy Spirit, Ah Geadh-Glas!
You can listen to me read it here
Poem and image by Ben White