You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Reflection: Genesis 1:24-25 (MSG) God spoke: “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind: cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds.” And there it was: wild animals of every kind, Cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug. God saw that it was good.
All my life I have heard- you are such a good child; your parents must love to have you as a daughter. The latter part of this statement may be accurate, but I have become increasingly concerned with being defined as good. Good was the daughter who never sat on the front porch steps because my father said sitting on cold steps would cause hemorrhoids. Good was the child who adhered to staying in a child’s place yet she watched her friends silently experiment with sex and drugs. Good was the granddaughter who would eat her carrots because grandma said it would turn my pupils a prettier and lighter color. Good was the child who never went outside to play because my parents were fearful that the next bullet flying down the street would have my name on it. Good is the child that stayed close to home rather than travel far for college at the bequest of a dependent family member. Good was the student who sat in the classroom with questions circling her mind about the lesson plan but was taught never to question the teacher. Good was the little girl who agreed that everyone besides those in her Pentecostal connectional church was on their way to Hell when in her heart she was plotting with God how to sneak her Jehovah Witness cousin into heaven one day. Good meant I was safe to the extent of being invisible to some and a mechanical dummy to others. I have become so programmed that even as an adult I apologize to God for the slightest thing; whether I drop food on the floor, stub my toe or make a mistake during a presentation I have valued being blameless over the course of my life that my automatic language is of lingering guilt or despair when I do something that is not good enough. Have you ever loss yourself in the peculiarities of small concerns and realized when you are done sacrificing yourself on the altar of sanctification that valuable time spent not laughing, not having fun, not taking risks, not loving, not giving, not living freely has past you by? As Oliver puts it- “tell me about despair…meanwhile the world goes on.”
But Mary Oliver opens her Wild Geese poem with the saying- “you do not have to be good.” But then suggests that we are called to be wild. In the creation story God says the earth would bring forth living creatures and God included the wild things and called them good. Therefore, to be good does not easily translate into being wild, but to be wild is to be good. Oliver presents a beautiful depiction of geese flying from mountain tops, across landscapes and into low valleys with deep trees in sight on their way home. To be a goose is one thing, but to be a wild goose adds to your character. Geese, although transient, adapt to their surroundings. They can be noisy at times, especially in team formations during flight but also on the ground or in the water. They are usually leading one another over or through nature. And to be wild suggests that the geese are independent of restrictions on their habitat. To be wild is to be free from the myths told to you by your parents, by the church even yourself. Oliver’s poem suggests the metaphor that the world calls to us like wild geese, harsh and exciting. Moreover, the world is calling us home and into a type of family system. I take this more so as the world calling us, humanity, back into relationship with nature; back into our original place as a created wild thing that is independent of rules and myths that cloud the conditions of our trajectory and prohibit flight times. In what ways has the world been calling to you? If the world provided you room to do anything this day, no restrictions, what would you do?
Prayer: Inspector God, search my body, my wings, and my beak for any impurities. Forgive me for remaining sedentary when you created me to soar. Animal loving God teach us to be what you created us to be; if it is to be tame- then let it be, if it is to be wild – then let it be. Wild Holy Spirit open our arms to accept the fullness of life; help us not to be knocked out of the skies of our possibilities because of fear, guilt and loyalty to traditional values that have soaring requirements. Let us be – free.