Sunday, March 25, 2007


Father Hank stands before the parish on the steps as always, book in hand, pensive look on his face. He never stands at the lectern. He never stands still. His smooth head and round face offer an unguarded view to his soul; his face, sometimes shining with joy, sometimes pained with passion.

He begins his sermon always with three words; topics really. He always begins this way, naming the three words that sound unrelated to one another, much less to a Godly lesson, and then unfolds three stories one at a time. All three are wrapped tightly at the end into one powerful message. He paces as he speaks, introducing this week’s three: Don’t Hesitate, Spiritual Gifts and Wild Geese.

Following the Gospel lesson of the Prodigal son, Father Hank unfolds the first story about his days in seminary. Unlike some who are called to this path early on, he reveals that he has lived several lifetimes, traveled many directions before God pulled him to his destiny. A married man, suddenly full time student, he painted a picture of difficult financial times and the humbling experience of a not so young man needing to turn to his own father for help. Anxious to offer explanation, he is silenced by his father, who hears the only thing that matters and sets out to meet him with an envelope; “Don’t hesitate.” was all he said. "It is like this with God," Hank explains. We, like the prodigal son, are welcomed without exception when we return; no explanation, no hesitation.

He went on to talk about spiritual gifts and how we all are born with them: Prophets and Healers, Artists and Musicians; something for each of us to be used for the good of all. “Pew Potato,” he reminds us, is not among the gifts. He speaks of the complacency of the “church” and how, closed inside this building, we come to draw from the Spirit, but often return through the doors self-contained; immobile.

He reflects on a walk with his dog earlier in the week and tells of how they were startled by the sudden boisterous swell of sound overhead; a large flock of geese headed north; wild and determined and directed. An animal husbandry lesson followed. Research has shown that tame geese in pens are stirred by the sound of wild geese flying overhead. Even the geese hatched into captivity respond to some kind of spiritual DNA, this inner call that causes them to run and flutter and honk, many attempting to take flight. For some reason, few are able to actually lift off and leave, in spite of the stirring. It is far easier to tame a wild goose, than to return a tame goose to the wild.

How many times have I sat in this place, moved to tears and conviction by the stories that stir my inner spirit, but find myself in the end, penned in and grounded?

The sermon has swirled around my head for days now. I think about the ways large and small that we reach beyond the fence of our tame existence. I think about the people in my church who have just returned from a mission trip to Guatemala: men and women with families, jobs and all of the other road blocks that keep us “penned in.” And yet they go.

For women, I believe this call from the wild gets stronger as we move farther along the path of our lives. Our innate desire to nurture is no longer consumed by our families and a sense of being connected to a larger family is illuminated.

I think of women like Oprah who do so much work in this way, using the gifts she was given and has earned to make an enormous difference in the lives of many. Having both the will and the means, she is able to act on the spirit. So what then for those of us who do not have the means? Can we make a difference?

Are there any tame geese who really do take flight?

Do I know any wild geese at all?

I do.


My husband has an aunt, perhaps 12 years his senior making her close to 60. Painting a picture of Debbie would require many brushes, endless colors and several canvases. Her life has been unusual taking her through three marriages and has landed her in careers ranging from boat cleaning to ski instructor. She has led adults on tours to Europe and guided women on horseback across Ireland. She has lived in cities and in the mountains; been on top of the world and close to the bottom. She has seen bumpy roads, and hard times. Perhaps it is safe to say that she has never been truly tame, truly penned in.

This September, Debbie did more than flutter and stir, she took flight.

At a time in life when most wish to wind down and take their duly earned Golden Years at leisure, Debbie joined the Peace Corp.

She is currently in a small village in Macedonia, assigned to helping the apple growers with marketing. She is writing a story about these kind, but seemingly sad people as she struggles in a village that speaks little English. Her journey thus far has led her through intensive training, three months of language coaching and finally to her destination, where people who cannot understand her look to her to improve their lives

I am in awe of her.

It is one thing to be moved, to have compassion, to be stirred. It is another thing entirely to leave what you know and trust to offer two years of your life to people whom you have never met in a place you have never seen.

She heard the wing of geese above and left her safe, penned existence for the unknown; not merely a vacation to a strange land, but as a kindred spirit to our larger family on this planet we call home.

I hear them too, and am stirring in my pen.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

1) Father Hank is a keeper!
2) Stirring in your pen - wow!
3) Raising 3 kids IS doing something important - maybe one of them will be the next Oprah!

Jenny Rough said...

I know the feeling. I hate being a pew potato

Terry Whitaker said...

your time will come. believe it.

Jerri said...

"call FROM the wild"--fabulous.

You describe this all so well I can feel the longing running through your veins, know that I'd love to have a cup of tea or five with Debbie, wish I could hear Father Hank speak.

To every thing there is a season, Nancy. To paraphrase your daughter, who knows what will happen tomorrow?