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Wild goose chase?

5 July 2011

I’ve skipped the last couple of Synchoblogs, partly because I didn’t have anything to say about the topics. I thought I’d better join in this month’s one, but when I got notice of the topic, I was completely nonplussed; altogether minused, one might say.

The Wild Goose is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit. In less than 24 hours, the first Wild Goose festival will be opening near Chapel Hill, NC. This festival is a North American arts, music, justice and spirituality festival debuting June 23-26, 2011! Inspired by Greenbelt in the UK, the festival hopes to provide a space to deepen growth for those who want to connect faith and justice, and provide inspiration and energy for fresh expressions of Christianity in today’s world. For more information about the festival check out The Wild Goose blog.

My response to that was like that of  Tom Lehrer, when faced with the task of writing his first original paper: “Bozhe moi! This I know from nothing. What I’m going to do?”[1]. For starters, I’d never heard of the wild goose as a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit, and if we’re to blog about something we surely need to know something more about it.

For another thing, I’d never heard that there was going to be a festival and learning that it was happening in 24 hours half a world away didn’t help much.

Anyway, I decided that if I was going to participate in the Synchoblog I’d better learn something about what it was about, so I googled for information on the wild goose as a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit, and it took me, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the Wild Goose blog, which didn’t tell me much about the festival but did say: The Holy Spirit, the Dove, the Wild Goose (an geadh-glas): DID CELTS CALLTHE HOLY SPIRIT “WILD GOOSE”?:

Scholars have not yet found any textual evidence that either ‘Wild Goose’ or ‘an geadh-glas’ were used by ancient Christian Celts (435-793 AD) to refer to the Holy Spirit. The presence of geese in Celtic art does not itself constitute proof. Celtic Christians drew many animals and art without an interpretive key can be quite ambiguous.

It is also sometimes said that ancient Celtic Christians did not speak of the Holy Spirit as a dove. Yet Celts, both ancient and modern, did and do write of the Spirit as a dove and of that we have proof.

We do know the metaphor of the Holy Spirit as Wild Goose was in use about 1940 by 20th century visionary George MacLeod and /or his contemporary sources.

That’s not very reassuring. I mean, how can I blog about an alleged metaphor that turns out to have very little evidence for it, but is a theme for a festival in another country half a world away, about which I know nothing? The Wild Goose Blog, incidentally, didn’t say anything about the festival, or at least not that I saw.

But we live in an information age, and even if you don’t go looking for information, information comes looking for you.

And information came looking for me in the shape of The Steve Hayes Daily. That’s a daily digest of the interesting or might be interesting stuff from people I follow on Twitter. It saves the hassle of having to look at Twitter several times a day. And so it comes to me as The Steve Hayes Daily is out! ▸ Top stories today via @grahamdowns @misseagle @gailhyatt.

And that leads me to Anti-Christian Christian movements? | GetReligion. That turns out to be a critique of an article in The Economist on the Wild Goose Festival. Well, that’s getting warmer. Though it’s not telling me much about the festival, it’s a critique of someone else’s critique of the festival. But what stands out is the picture.

Hang on, isn’t that a picture of the cover of Time magazine? And isn’t the article a critique of an article in The Economist?

“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Alice.

Is Time now writing about this lot as if it is a revival or a rehash of the Jesus Revolution of 40 years ago? They produced a similar cover story back then? Have they done a repeat story now, with a similar cover? Or is The Economist now masqerading as Time.

Anyway, the GetReligion article is complaining about what the Time/Economist article didn’t tell us. Never mind that – I’m now more worried about what the GetReligion article is telling us.

I don’t know if the Wild Goose Festival is a rerun of the Jesus Revolution of 40 years ago, as the Economist/Time/GetReligion thingy implies, but I thought the Jesus Revolution back then was pretty cool, despite the efforts of a bunch of suits (several bunches, in fact) to hijack it for their own purposes. Quite a lot of people involved in the Jesus Revolution ended up in the Orthodox Church, not least among them Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.

Well, if you really want to know about something, why not go to the source. George MacLeod is apparently the source of the wild goose as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. I Google for George MacLeod and I discover this:

I RECALL wandering around the streets of Govan as a wee boy. On Sunday nights we always used to go to Govan Cross, where there was a sort of speakers’ corner. George MacLeod was always there, talking about the yards and campaigning for better conditions. He used to get hundreds of people listening.

The first time I heard him I went home and asked my father who this man was. He said: ”That’s the minister, son.” And that impressed me: that the minister should be out there, talking to the people. The man had a huge impact on Govan, and he was a great campaigner. I never actually met him, but I’m sure that if I had been older I’d have been grasped by him: he had that kind of power.

Even as a small boy, though I could not really understand what he was saying, I was impressed that here was this minister, reaching out beyond his church and his pulpit, reaching out to the people.

There’s missional for you.

That tribute comes from no less an authority than the greatest football coach of our era, Alex Ferguson, OBE, who was born and bred in Govan. He played football for, among others, Rangers and Dunfermline. His distinguised managerial career has taken him from East Stirling to Manchester United, via St Mirren and Aberdeen. And you can read tributes from others here: George MacLeod: visionary, crusader, impish iconoclast – Herald Scotland.

I think that’s enough of a wild goose chase for today.


This post is part of a monthly Synchroblog, in which a group of bloggers share their thoughts on a common theme, usually from a Christian point of view. Any Christian blogger is welcome to join in.

Here’s the list of links to the other posts in the Synchroblog. Please have a look at them. Some of the bloggers may have actually been to the Wild Goose festival, and may say something about it.


1. Tom Lehrer’s first original paper was on analyic and algebraic topology of locally Euclidian metrization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifold.

Remembering the advice of his adopted mentor, Lobachevsky (“In one word he told me the secret of success in mathematics: plagiarize!”) Lehrer goes on a wild goose chase to Siberia and back:

I think of the great Lobachevky and I get idea!

I have a friend in Minsk
who has a friend in Pinsk
whose friend in Omsk
has friend in Tomsk
with friend in Akmolinsk.
His friend in Aleksandrovsk
has friend in Petropavlovsk
whose friend somehow
is solving now
the problem in Dnepropetrovsk.

And when his work is done
Ha ha, begins the fun!
From Dnepropetrovsk to Petropavlovsk
By way of Ilisk
And Novorossiysk
To Alexandrovsk to Akmolinsk
To Tomsk to Omsk
To Pinsk to Minsk
to me the news will run.

And then I write
by morning, night
and afternoon
and pretty soon
my name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed
when he finds out I published first.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Irulan permalink
    6 July 2011 7:48 am

    One of the not-so-interesting reactions to this event was from Frank Schaeffer, Frankie seems to have a major gripe against his ‘fundamentalist’ upbringing, a grudge that has not, apparently, prevented him from publishing his rather bitter views.

    • 6 July 2011 8:53 am

      I don’t know what to make of Frank Schaeffer.

      I was at a conference where he was trying to persuade the Orthodox Church to take the religious right fundamentalist side in the American culture wars. He read a paper that was a sustained attack on American culture. He ended up calling for “an Orthodoxy with teeth”.

      A Russian bishop responded through an interpreter: “You call for an Orthodoxy with teeth, but what happens if those you want to bite grow bigger teeth turn round and bite you back? We have people like you in Russia. We call them ‘Orthodox Bolsheviks'”

      In his latest piece (the one you referred to) he seems to have mellowed a little, but he still seems to be baring his teeth.

      • 6 July 2011 1:36 pm

        Is Schaeffer still Orthodox? I clicked to a link of his on your other blog and got the impression that he is post everything. Except, perhaps, anger.

        • 7 July 2011 7:39 am

          That’s certainly what it looks like to me, but it seems that what he had to say at the Wild Goose thingy resonated quite a bit with a lot of the people who blogged about it. I’m glad that he’s apparently dropped the right-wing agenda that he was promoting within Orthodoxy about 15 years ago, but it’s sad if he’s dropped Orthodoxy. Perhaps he picked it up as a tool to suit his purpose, and found it didn’t suit, and then his purpose changed anyway.


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