“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all…” Emily Dickinson
I spend a lot of time bird watching, it is one of my favorite spiritual practices. I listen to their songs, notice the color of their feathers, watch them gather building materials for their nests, and marvel at the way they flaunt their beautiful plumage and turn their little lungs into powerful drums as their call for companionship incessantly reverberates through the air. Sometimes the answers is almost immediate, sometimes the song becomes a plea that fades into the setting sun, unanswered, only to be picked up again with the first light of dawn. Sometimes, even when I can’t see the wild geese, I hear them honking overhead, announcing the great turning of the seasons, and reminding me of migrations great and small. They remind me of being in constant movement in the search for home and beloved community.
Sometimes the changes we experience in life leave us feeling fragile like a little bird without a song and “up in the air.” Yet I know that we all carry home in our hearts, in our rituals, in our music, in our companionship, in our shared hopes. I have come to believe that home and hope are not things that are, but things that you practice, and build and rebuild with others, over and over again.
And so when I hear the geese, they remind me that neither home nor hope is a destination, but found in the doing, in the moving, stick by stick, feather by feather, as we face joys and sorrows together, as we reach out and care for each other.
Last summer, in preparation for my move, I went to a thrift store and found a beautiful card with a quote “Lessons from the Geese.” I’d like to share it with you:
Fact: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going maybe not quicker, but definitely with more joy and feeling connected because they are traveling on the energy of one another.
Fact: when a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. By moving back into formation it can take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. we are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
Fact: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
Lesson: It is necessary to take turns and share our gifts and skills as community leaders. We need one another and we are part of an interdependent web of existence.
Fact: When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with a new formation and catch up with the flock.
Lesson: If we have as much compassion as the geese, we will support each other during difficult times as well as when we are strong.
Fact: the geese flying in front honk to encourage those in front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: HONK! HONK! HONK! Let’s make sure our words encourage and uplift each other. There is much power in being each other’s cheerleaders. Especially when someone is new in a committee or an introvert stepping up to a leadership position for the first time.
For all of us who are in the midst of change and transition, I offer the image of the wild geese as a reaffirmation of our own capacity to care for each other, to cheer each other on, and to find hope in community, even when we feel “up in the air.”
Beloveds, we are on a shared journey as a community. Our shared stories connect us and weave together the threads of active hope. May the lessons from the geese guide us as we prepare to re-start our Small Group Ministry. Let us rejoice in the value and beauty of being together, supporting each other, and building community through sharing our stories: Stick by stick, song by song, feather by feather.