Imago dei, silly goose

Pastoral Messages | October 1, 2019

If you ask an ornithologist about the Canada Goose, maybe they’ll tell you about bone structure or eating habits. City planners and urban developers would likely refer to them as a public nuisance in suburban green spaces. My three-year-old has yet to realize a goose is a bird. To her, a ‘goose’ is what you call a person when they insist on being nonsensical and frivolous.

Celtic theologians, however, have been known to compare the goose to the Holy Spirit, and here’s where all interpretations might conflagrate.

The Celtic understanding sees the goose as a wild bird that goes where it wishes, and so it is with the spirit of God. Recently departed poet Mary Oliver wrote about the goose as permission, perhaps, to be gracious to oneself. In her famed poem, ‘Wild Geese,’ Oliver writes: “You do not have to be good … you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Thanks to a friend, I recently discovered a new podcast hosted by the author John Green called “The Anthropocene Reviewed.” It’s a show dedicated to evaluating the “human-centered” planet “on a 5-star scale.” Green recently spent half of an episode reviewing the Canada Goose. Spoiler alert: he’s not impressed. I had to chuckle when he recalled some of their less attractive qualities like how they can be aggressive and, ahem, massively waste-producing. Before listening to this episode, I was quite stuck on the flying geese in Mary Oliver’s poem; the theological symbolism of God’s spirit; the permission to be real.

But maybe the analogy spans the grace — and the irreverence. Could it be that the symbolism still holds? That a wild bird in flight and a public irritant could both reflect the image of God?

My understanding of the Holy Spirit is that she’s a bit of a trickster; that third party of the Trinity that might go undetected until you experience something you could have overlooked, but didn’t. So now, you’re puzzling over it – wondering if the God of the universe might just be interacting with a lowly human – like yourself.

It’s a stretch, I suppose. I don’t think all aspects of the Holy Spirit overlap with those of this ordinary bird. But maybe thinking about a vagabond, honking creature roaming the ‘burbs in search of grub resembles the Spirit’s presence just as much as the elegant migrating one, cutting gracefully through the sky in V formation…

…or maybe that’s just silly talk.

-Kendra Thompson

One comment on “Imago dei, silly goose”

  • Nancy Ingelson

    October 3, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    Kendra, from one silly goose to another, your musings invite take off and waddle and honk! So many thought and Spirit provoking images offered up, enough for a gaggle of humans to gather ‘round…anyone care to join me? Love your writing!

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