On July 9-12, 2015, Joan and I attended the Wild Goose Festival (WGF) in Hot Springs, NC. I had submitted a proposal which was accepted and I co-presented with John Dear on “Seeing Merton.” John spoke about Merton on nonviolence. I addressed Merton on photography, spirituality and peacemaking. As Merton said, “We are already one. We all have to realize this. We have to become what we are.”
I also exhibited six of my photographs. Photography opens the doors and windows to contemplation—seeing into the very is-ness of things. Photography reveals the “hidden wholeness” and “beauty deep down things”—to wed Merton and Hopkins.
The Festival is the intersection of art, music and justice. There was abundant music, art, and talk about justice. For me, justice is about everyone having enough to live a fully human life. Enough may be bread. Enough may be unconditional acceptance.
Labels do not matter at WGF. Age, gender, sectarian beliefs, tribal boundaries (national origin) and sexual orientation all fade away as non-important. WGF provides a much needed space for people to be themselves, what they were meant to be, their face before they were born. A black woman sported a tee shirt reading, “I have found God and she is black.”
Impassioned “preachers” railed for peace and justice. Artists invited people into their world to see what they see deep down. Tearful people talked about how they had been hurt and hurt deeply by others or by dint of circumstance. All too often the hurt came from the non-acceptance of church people. Ouch!
I listened to a lesbian speak about how her church’s rejection of her had drilled a wound deep into her soul. I listened as Vietnam veterans lamented a life dampened by PTSD. The light bulb came on. We have no choice over our parents, our country of origin, our life environment, or being drafted for Vietnam. Sartre was right—we are thrown into things. The throweness of life can be overwhelming. But we each have our story. Only love and non-judgmental acceptance of the other can bring the balm of Gilead to woundedness. By nature, we are hell bent on survival; however, we are called to evolve, to become more of what we are supposed to be.
Our task back home is to re-create the safe, loving environment of the Wild Goose. Wild geese are unpredictable and like the Holy Spirit are blown by the wind. Wild geese live on the margins. Wild geese are refugees in a world gone mad. Wild geese dare go where others fear to tread. Wild geese know that life on the cusp really is about love and unconditional acceptance. We really are one.
One critic of WGF described it a godless, earth worship. What a shame. Does the critic not realize that God is no longer up there and out there? Does the critic not realize that God—however we define the undefinable—became incarnate, became “flesh” in our messy, chaotic, sometimes broken world? We cannot undo incarnation. We can only live as if it is real here and now.
Out of all the speakers at WGF one—Frank Schaeffer—had a big impact on me. Frank is an artist and writer. More importantly, he describes himself as a stay at home grandfather. His latest book, Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God, is a perfect sequel to Daniel Maguire’s Christianity without God. The remote, often fierce and punishing God of theism is dead. With Ezra Pound I chant, “Winter is i-cumming in, lhude sing goddamn!” Goodbye to the god of Canaan conquest, the god of crusades, the god of inquisitions, the god of perpetual warfare, the god of oppression, the god of greedy acquisition, the god of capital punishment.
Frank reminded us of the quality consumerism and rampant technology have attempted to destroy—beauty. We must rediscover the intrinsic worth of beauty. Beauty is the reason we are here. Frank urged us to make our lives into works of art. Like Merton, Frank understands beauty as “seeing paradise.”
I gained a renewed sense of purpose at the WGF. My calling as a photographer is to uncover the hidden wholeness deep down things and help others enter in so they can appreciate the face of the Creator.
I have been mulling over the Hebrew word hesed. It is often translated as mercy; however, I think it is much more than that. One musical group at WGF translated it as “steady love.” Now we are getting close to the core meaning. It has also been translated as loving kindness. I think hesed is a verb. Hesed is all about the living, loving God, heseding us at every moment—God breathing life and love into us at each moment. I hope my eastern Christian brothers and sisters will not mind if I have had the audacity to change the Jesus Prayer—“Jesus, son of the living, God, have mercy on me a sinner.” My prayer has become, “Jesus, son of the living God, hesed me into love.”
God really is alive and well. God is love. Love is the cosmic force coursing through the cosmos. God lives in each and every person and all of creation. My wife says, “God is the breath within the breath.” The Sufi Muslim poet Hafiz wrote, “I am the hole in the flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.” We are evolving, we are becoming what we were meant to be—divine love flowing forth.
Wild geese, fly to the margins where love. Abounds.