Earlier this month, I was blessed to attend Wild Goose Festival, a gathering here in the south-land which is a type of contemporary camp meeting. It invites people to join in a type of revival. Though it draws on the tent-meeting revival tradition of the south-land, even down to folks camping in the mountains by a river, hearing speakers and musicians performing under giant tents, it does so with a progressive vision of life which, on balance, emphasizes God’s unconditional love & grace, our call to deep spirituality which holds no prejudice against other cultures & faiths, and with social justice toward minorities, women, queer folk of all stripes, and the outcast.
In previous years when I attended I was the most struck by opportunities to sit at the feet of great speakers and teachers such as the late Phyllis Tickle, Father Richard Rohr, Teresa Pasquale, Frank Schaeffer, Rev. Dr. William Barber, and many others.
This year I found, after a year of much changes, a need for something different. This year I faced the loss of multiple people dear to me, including several mentors & friends and even an intimate life-partner of over a dozen years. In the midst of this I was engaged with emotionally grueling, constantly on-the-go work as a hospice chaplain. Then, my own process of healing involved renewing my connections with and commitment to very active patterns of life: becoming active in my church on boards, a Bible study group I now help lead, a hand-bell choir; becoming more actively involved in old and new friendships; becoming more involve in community activities that get me at work toward social justice and more eco-friendly lifestyles; and recently even exploring and finding romance again. All of that, even the painful days of loss, in the long run have led to positive changes and growth in my life. However taken together it has been a roller coaster ride at top speed. I arrived to the mountainside upon which Wild Goose gathered reeling, needing to stop for a moment.
So I found myself drawn away from the speakers at first, drawn to sit by the riverside, to hear its waters, to listen through meditation to my own heartbeat and the story of my own life. In fact, the first act I engaged in after setting up tents with the friend who asked me to join him at Goose was to take off my shoes and do what my current significant other calls “creek-stomping”: jumping into the flowing waters of the French Broad River, feeling the current move all around me.
At first I felt a little bit of guilt to be ducking out of hearing speakers or listening to music, simply to sit with the silence of the woods, hearing its song. Yet as I meditated, I felt broken pieces of my own heart begin to knit together in new ways. I felt a comfort lift me up and carry me.
This experience of comfort, healing, and renewal found in sitting in the midst of the greening presence of nature in meditation is reminiscent of the words of great Southern poet, Wendell Berry:
“When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
When I finally heard words that connected with my soul, it was when I listened to Matthew Fox talk of the Cosmic Christ, the living Christ who we saw embodied in the life of Jesus yet is now present in all of nature, all living things, and each person no matter how oppressed or outcast. I realized as I listened to Fox speak that when I was meditating by the river or writing out reflections that struck me as I listened to the song-like rustling of leaves overhead, I was not just doing nothing. No, I was encountering afresh the One who touches me in every story I hear told to me by a patient on my hospice line and their families – the same Cosmic Christ who calls out to us saying “I as hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick or in prison and you visited me”.
This is because it is the Cosmic Christ St. Thomas was remembering when he wrote in the ancient Christian writing bearing his name, “It is I who am the light that presides over all. It is I who am the entirety: it is from me that the entirety has come, and to me that the entirety goes. Split a piece of wood: I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there.” (The Gospel of Thomas 77). The Cosmic Christ is the one I experienced calling me away from the crowds into solitary places, as Jesus was so drawn in His earthly life, to be renewed and made whole.
I realize now as I write that each of the aspects of the Wild Goose festival which renewed my spirit so that it begin to lift wing and soar over my time there this year were experiences of the Cosmic Christ embracing me and restoring me in various ways.
I hope in the upcoming posts about my Wild Goose experience to talk specifically about who the Cosmic Christ is and some of the ways we experience this Christ presence in our lives, using my own experiences of this movement in my own life from Wild Goose as illustrations.
To close, let me share with you the words of a Mary Oliver poem, “By the River Clarion,” that Matthew Fox said perfectly depicts a personal experience of the Cosmic Christ to him:
“I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.
“I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.
“If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.
“Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing,
if you would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?
“If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.
“He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?
“Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy
which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.
“Of course for each of us, there is the daily life.
Let us live it, gesture by gesture.
When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?
And should we not thank the knife also?
We do not live in a simple world.
“There was someone I loved who grew old and ill
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do
except to remember
that we receive
then we give back.”
“My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest, she is given back.
But the river Clarion still flows from wherever it comes from
to where it has been told to go.
I pray for the desperate earth.
I pray for the desperate world.
I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much.
Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.
“Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers.
And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them, for heaven’s sakes–
the lucky ones: they have such deep natures,
they are so happily obedient.
While I sit here in a house filled with books,
ideas, doubts, hesitations.
“And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river
keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its
long journey, its pale, infallible voice
—- – –
May we experience communion with the Cosmic Christ in our own lives and souls as well.
Your progressive redneck preacher,