The Big Soul and the Wild Goose
John tells the story of Jesus’ last night with his disciples. After they had eaten the Passover meal, Jesus gets ready to say goodbye and to tell those he loves most what will happen after he is gone. It is a beautiful story. We can imagine this group of Galileans, who have come from small towns around northern Israel, sitting in the city of Jerusalem, expecting the worst. They are all together in a rented room, knowing that they are in danger, and listening to the words of their teacher.
They must have been terribly frightened. They keep asking questions about what is coming next. Where are you going? Will we ever see you again? You have shown and taught us so much—what will we do without you?
Have you ever had to sit around and wait for bad news? You know how you can’t really think straight? You know how it feels like there is so much tension in the room you could cut it with a knife? That’s how I imagine the upper room that night. And Jesus knew they were afraid. He had come to Jerusalem, knowing he was probably going to get arrested. He knew people wanted to kill him. Things were not looking good.
So Jesus decides to comfort them. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says, “I will come to you.” Jesus tells them that they will never really be parted. That his presence will always be there. He will come to them through the presence of the Spirit. This Spirit, Jesus says, is what holds us all together. He tells them that they will have each other and that they will have another, greater Spirit with them who will keep them connected. They will always feel Jesus’ presence, because they are all connected—Jesus, the disciples, the whole community—through the presence of the Spirit.
In Hebrew, the word for spirit is ru’ach. This ru’ach shows up at the very first paragraph in Genesis, creating and breathing life into the world. The spirit is the life force of creation. And it is this life force, this spirit that gives life, that also connects all of us. In our Acts reading, Paul tells the Athenians that it is in this Spirit that we live and move and have our being. In everything we do, throughout our lives, the Spirit is present.
When I was sick earlier this year, I picked up Grapes of Wrath, a book about a family who is thrown off their farm during the great depression. They are searching for meaning. They are searching for a place to call home. In the book, there is a preacher named Casey who gets really discouraged and tries to make sense of all of the change and suffering that he was seeing. Finally, he tells a friend; “A fellow ain't got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody.” That big soul is the Spirit that Jesus promised. That big soul connects us all to each other. That is what community is all about.
Life is always changing. The disciples felt this in the upper room that night. Nothing was going to be the same for them after that. Jesus tells them that the Spirit will guide them through that change. The Spirit will give them a sense of belonging and home even as everything around them changes. Even as they watch the person they love most die and then ascend into heaven, the Spirit will be there.
Early Celtic Christians used to refer to the Holy Spirit as the Wild Goose. The Goose is a symbol of what is wild and free, a symbol of change and unpredictability. Sometimes early Celtic Christians would talk about following the Holy Spirit as “following the Wild Goose.”
This past year, I have very much felt like I am following a wild goose. God, the Spirit has guided me through many changes. I have moved across the country, leaving the area I have lived my whole life. I have moved from small towns to a big city. It is a time in my life where I am following God’s spirit and seeing where it leads me. But is has also been a time of change. Everything is different and strange. It is has been scary. I’ve been sick for 5 months, I have visited Mexico for three weeks, I have taken classes and written more theology papers than I ever thought possible. I have met amazing people, I have missed all of you and I have missed the quiet of the countryside. It has been exciting and scary all at the same time. I think this wild goose, this holy spirit is taking me for a wild ride.
Part of what sustains me is connecting to community. I have found an amazing community at the Episcopal Divinity School. This community is also part of what keeps me going. You have all been an amazing support to me. Like Casey said, we all have just a piece of the big soul that connects us all.
When I think about this community here, at St Mark’s, in Montesano, in Grays Harbor, I wonder what Jesus is saying to us? We have a strong community, where people help each other and know each other and love each other. We feel connected to each other. Having been away this last year, I appreciate this more than ever. This is the Spirit’s work among us. Jesus tells us, just as he told his disciples; “I will not leave you orphaned; I have come to you.” And Jesus comes to us through each other, through our friends and community members. “I am in my father, and you in me and I in you.” We are all part of the Big Soul, the Holy Spirit.
But we are also in a community that is changing. Some of you have been here for a long time and have seen many changes—in the community, in the church, in the world. There are fewer jobs here. There are fewer people in church. Worship styles change. Young people often move away. There is a lot of uncertainty. And we are afraid. We are not sure what the Spirit is doing. We want to stay connected but so much is changing. The Holy Spirit does seem to be a Wild Goose. What this Spirit is doing doesn’t always make sense. Just like the disciples in the upper room, we wonder about the future.
Its nice to think of the Holy Spirit as a “Big Soul” that is connecting us all. It is scary to think about the Spirit as a Wild Goose always doing crazy things. But the Holy Spirit is both.
I think a lot about this poem by Mary Oliver when I think about the Holy Spirit:
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
I pray that we can all see our connection to the Big Soul—our connection to Jesus, to each other, to our communities, to all people. I also pray that we can learn to follow the Wild Goose as we see how God is at work in our lives and community. Amen.