Chasing the Wild Goose

When I was signing up for classes and workshops for the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference last spring, I really had no idea what would be best to take. So I chose a bit at random . . . picking the ones with interesting titles or summaries, trying to cover a variety of topics.

The continuing education class that I signed up for on Thursday of the conference was titled “The Wildness of Writing with God.” I honestly chose it because I thought the titles on the outline published online sounded fascinating—I love a little theology mixed in with my writing, and I figured, “Well, I can always use more spiritual encouragement in my writing.”

It turned out to be the perfect class for me, reminding me that God is in control of my life and of my writing and that both will continue to roll along on his time schedule, not mine. When we live with that knowledge at the forefront of our minds, the speaker said, relationship with Him replaces the stringent adherence to the rules of the right and wrong ways to write or go about life. God is more interested in our presence than our productivity (underlined that one a couple times in my notes).

During the class, a side comment the speaker made caught my attention. He said that in ancient Celtic cultures, the Holy Spirit was referred to as the “wild goose.” In my notes, I penciled “wild goose chase???,” wondering if that could have been what brought about the phrase.

As it turns out, there is a lot of controversy over whether Celtics really did this and whether it is sacrilege to refer to the Holy Spirit as something as scatter-brained as a goose. A left-leaning “Wild Goose” Festival has only further confused Evangelicals over whether this is an acceptable metaphor.

But I still wanted to know where the phrase “wild goose chase” actually came from. It seems that one of the first recorded uses of the phrase was William Shakespeare’s character Mercutio, in Romeo and Juliet: “Nay, if thy wits run the wild goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five: was I with you there for the goose?”

However, it is believed that the phrase has earlier roots in some kind of steeplechase known as the “wild goose,” in which riders had to pursue the lead rider on whatever course he set. Presumably, this follow-the-leader style chase was to take place in a formation similar to that of flying geese.

After researching the phrase and all of its controversy, I’m not sure it really matters whether the early Celtics referred to the Holy Spirit as a wild goose or not. Either way, I think there’s something to be said for following Him on whatever course He sets, even when we don’t understand it, even when it seems a little too wild for our tastes.

“‘He’ll be coming and going,’ he had said. ‘One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.’” –C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

A couple months ago, I had a dream where this small green stem burst out of its confines within a metal pipe and grew at a fantastic speed into first a branch and then a mass of roots that poured out of the pipe. In the dream, a group of people had tried to keep the roots confined—They’re dangerous, they said. But in my mind, the wildness of the roots was good. It was growth.

I don’t often have that same attitude in real life. Wildness, while appealing as a theoretical concept, is terrifying in its physical incarnations. But when I think of following the untamed Spirit, of following Jesus, in His plans for me and of living in the freedom that trust brings . . . well, that sounds ten times better than toiling away in a confined cubicle trying to follow all the rules society and I have set for my own life.

When I think about it that way, wildness is . . . good.

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