About 5 years ago a friend of mine, a minister, was shooting the breeze with me in the copy room at the church. I was busily getting things in order for a choir rehearsal that night. We were talking about our favorite theological writers. I was saying something about how off-beat my music was, generally musing about where on earth it might fit someday (and how much my lyrics had lately been getting me into trouble) . . . and that's when Wild Goose came up. My preacher friend said, "You need to go to that festival someday. Check it out."
I did check it out. I read about it and watched interviews from it. I became inspired by it (from a distance). The next fall I applied to play my music there. I was not accepted. I applied a few more times. And each time I wasn't accepted, I received the rejection thinking, "I don't quite know what my story is yet, anyway . . . other than: I'm a weirdo music writing girl whose poetry makes people uncomfortable."
The phrase "Wild Goose" is an old Celtic name for the Holy Spirit. This year my family celebrated Pentecost in an Episcopal church for the first time, and plenty of beautiful imagery surrounded us in the form of paraments and liturgy. The sunny little sanctuary at the church was all decked out in red with wild balloons tied on the ends of every row (even a few butterflies!). My favorite thing, however, was a strange ribbon-filled creation that led the processional and recessional. It was held high above the congregation, swinging back and forth as it went, brushing the tops of our heads . . . disturbing the air. I asked the minister what it was called at the end of the service (thinking surely it had a name!). He said, "No idea! It mainly looks wild - the Holy Spirit is a little bit wild, you know!"
During the month of May I found out about my acceptance to play a 45 minute set at the 2017 Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. I was surprised and delighted. It wasn't hard to know what I should play - this year all festival contributors were asked to think about stories, lamentation, and celebration. In other words:
How do we create healthy communities even though we're broken people?
How do we bear witness to each other's great joy?
How do we bear witness to each other's greatest sorrow?
How do we stay honest?
How do we speak out?
How do we listen respectfully?
This was the call for contributors made in the fall of the year. I didn't know it yet, but I'd have plenty to share. Just a few months after I put in my application to play for the festival this summer I lost 2 former students to a violent home invasion, my local community suffered incredible loss in the wake of the Woodmore bus crash, my graduate school piano teacher suddenly died, and I lost my only living grandmother. All of this took place over the course of 2 and a half months. My community was reeling. And on the inside, I felt like the sky was falling. I've never experienced so many different kinds of grief so close together. In the middle of all of that the presidential election took place and I found that many members of my acquaintance disagreed deeply with each other, and yet another huge rift was made apparent in our national community (and local, and familial, and everywhere in between). On top of that, drought and wildfire filled our beloved Tennessee valley and covered the mountains we love with ash and smoke. I felt like I was surely sitting outside the city gates wearing sack cloth, eating dust and ashes for breakfast. We all were there together.
As all of the above was taking place, I continued to come obediently to the piano with my notebook. I would sit there, waiting for God to speak, and God would speak.
What I ended up with was a collection of songs about the open wound of the human condition, imagery reflecting the broken world we live in, and hope about the commonality of God's creation in us. And this really is what sends me to Wild Goose: I believe that God made everybody. Period. And I believe that God knows everybody. Period. I believe that God will reconcile us all to each other in God's own good time. And I believe we are allowed to grieve and express sorrow individually, as a community, and as a world without pretense. We don't have to say "but I'm happy even though . . . blah blah blah." We can just say, "God, this is so awful and hard." and God, who is community unto God's self, will say, "I know. I see everything."
If you google "Wild Goose Festival" you're going to find the festival's own website and their own description of what they are and what they do. You will also find links to articles on opposing sides of the discussion surrounding the festival's existence. Some will say that it's a spirit-filled event, an expression of the love of God, and based on the Christian tradition. Others will say the exact opposite. It is most certainly an event that encourages open discussion and challenges our ideas about who belongs to God and how we can see God at work in the world. Its table of communion is so very open that it seems to inspire fear . . . . admittedly, this is one of my favorite things about it! Not that it inspires fear, but that its openness is so challenging to the idea of division and exclusivity. We protestants so enjoy our denominations that we forget sometimes: Jesus ate with the tax collectors, prostitutes, and persecutors alike. He called people who did not agree to the same table and held the same challenges up under their diverse noses.
Dear reader, you can decide for yourself what you think of Wild Goose. I don't mind which side you come down on. I'll be your friend either way.
I carry a story of lamentation to Wild Goose 2017. I carry a story of loss and rebirth, and our need for community. My assertion will be that we cannot afford to allow each other to wander away from community, and we can't allow ourselves to do so either. We need to be wrapped up in healthy communities when life is hard, and life will be hard sometimes. We need to speak truth in the midst of our communities and we need to learn to speak and listen in equal measure. We're meant to learn from each other and about each other. I'm sure of it. So my songs about grief will be about grief . . . but also about how community inspires rebirth . . . . new growth from the ashes.
In my mind I'll carry the thought of those wild ribbons stirring up the air on Pentecost Sunday. In my heart I'll carry the faces of my students, my teachers, and God's face in each of them.
If you're still fuzzy about what Wild Goose might look like, feel free to get more information right HERE. So many beautiful things to consider.
My little band of soul sisters will hit the road next Thursday and I'll play at the Goose on Friday. All prayers are very much appreciated!