Wild Geese

Sermon preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church - Park Ridge, Illinois
The Feast of William Reed Huntington, July 27, 2005

What do you think of when you see a goose or a flock of geese? Say it out loud . . . what comes to mind? Last time you saw them in a park, in the street, in your yard, flying in the sky above. . . What did you think? Perhaps you remembered how dirty they are. How much of a mess they leave on your favorite walking path – or in your yard. Maybe you recalled the noisy nuisance they create as they fly overhead. Perhaps you recalled a time when one of those ill-tempered birds nipped at your heel as you walked along. Or, maybe you paid them no attention at all.

Now close your eyes for a moment and think about yourself. For some of you, what you hear as you listen are disappointments and failures? Or maybe you see good intentions that have fallen flat? A broken promise? An unfulfilled dream? Does your mind compare you to someone else – someone who is kinder, more successful, prettier, more accomplished? Hear what your mind tells you about yourself. Perhaps you are reminded of a time you did something you are proud of - and then that same voice interrupts, telling you to feel ashamed for being so prideful. . . it reminds you of how selfish you really are. Just take a moment and listen.

Now gradually allow your eyes to open and listen to the words of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese.1

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles across 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 again announcing
your place in the family of things.

Did you know that geese fly in that V-shaped pattern because of the updraft created by the wings of the goose in front? Each goose creates an updraft when it flaps its wings. This updraft increases the individual goose’s flying range by about 70-80%. It is therefore less work for any one goose to get to its destination. The lead goose has it the hardest with no goose before it to create updraft. As a result, when it gets tired, another goose flies to the front to take over for a while. Each goose takes its part in insuring that the flock reaches its destination. When one goose becomes injured or ill and falls out of formation, two other geese follow it to the ground. They will stay with the sick or injured goose until it is strong enough to fly again or until it dies. Then the two or three geese will take flight again to re-join their own flock or to take their place in another flock.2

Allow the world to call to you like the wild geese . . . announcing over and over again your place in the family of things.

So often we focus on the disappointments in life – the negatives in our lives and in the lives of others. And when we focus our attention this way, we miss so much of the beauty that is in our world and in ourselves. We miss the truth that the Love with which the Father loved Jesus is in us and that we are in God. And it is in acknowledging and living this Truth - this understanding of Love - that we become completely one with God and with one another.

When we refocus our attention we may notice what William Reed Huntington described more than a century ago. Huntington wrote that to “feel gratitude and joy” we must discover “that . . . the lines of the original painting are still traceable upon the stained and torn canvas and that underneath the incrustations of long ages there lies the pure and perfect outline of the Mystical Body of the Lord.”3

Next time you see a flock of geese, what will you choose to notice? Next time you look in the mirror – or into the eyes of another human being – what will you choose to notice?

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the Love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17.25-26).

1 Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese,” Dream Work accessed online at the Ikelman Home Page on July 25, 2005.

2 Inspiration and details for the goose information came from a visualization experienced during my participation in the Hoffman Quadrinity Process on July 22, 2005. More information about this Process can be obtained at The Hoffman Institute’s website.

3 William Reed Huntington, The Church-Idea: An Essay Toward Unity, Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002, p. 33.