J. Marshall Jenkins

Author, Therapist, Spiritual Director

Wild Goose Festival 2016: Mourning and Dancing by the River

Wild Goose Festival: Finding Sacred Space by the French Broad River

Wild Goose Festival: Finding Sacred Space by the French Broad River

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

“That river flows the wrong way,” my wife, Wanda, said at first sight of the French Broad River two years ago.

We stood on the grounds of the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC, a gathering of Christians and seekers who share a common passion for social justice, prayer, and witness that too often don’t fit in deformed vessels of institutional religion. How fitting to gather on the banks of a river that flows north when almost all the rest flow south.

But Wanda will quickly admit that she misspoke. Rivers don’t run the wrong way. The right way is however they run. For rivers rest into the topography, and that resting keeps them strong and steady in their march.

One of the world’s oldest rivers, the French Broad welcomed the mountains as they emerged eons ago. We polluted it, but we helped it come back. Now it marches wide and brown like rocky road ice cream making white marshmallow caps on the scattered rocks. It makes me smile as rocky road ice cream does.

It makes me smile not only with a child’s delight in ice cream but in Sabbath delight that sacred spaces bring. Natural anomalies often mark sacred spaces. A rainbow spans enemy camps. A cloud leads a refugee nation through the wilderness. A star illumines a manger. A river runs north.

At the Wild Goose Festival, we celebrate. But we do so with open hearts.

We do not censor tears. We invite mourning with all its anger and sadness. We allow all the joyous overwhelming of mountain views and the anguished overwhelming of the news.

In the heart of the Smokies, we get lousy telecom signals and broken internet connections. So this year, we heard mostly from the main stage about the terrible shooting of brothers of color in Louisiana and Minnesota and the terrible shooting of brothers in blue in Dallas. And we who don’t know what to do turned to God and one another in our search. As Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls said from the main stage Saturday night, “People, we gotta do more.”

One thing we must do about it is worship the one God whose grief encompasses and exceeds all human pain over such violence. So we worship the one God whose passion is for our peace because God loves us all.

Phil Madeira helped us with that as he sang these words on Saturday night:

God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that
Bigger than religion
He’s got a better plan
The sign says Gods gone fishin’
For the soul of every man…[1]

And the next morning at closing worship for the Wild Goose Festival, we shared God’s passion as many joined a processional with Ken Medema leading our song, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” The marchers followed the French Broad mourning and returned dancing to, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

So long ago, the psalmist also sang:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge (Psalm 46:4-7).

As of that time and as of now, Jerusalem has no rivers. Yet, a river does flow from there into all the world. An anomalous river.  It is faith, hope, and love resting into God’s creation, moving from mourning to dancing. And it will flow until all creation is a sacred space and all the religions and nations embrace. Until all heed the cry of the one suffering, loving LORD:

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).


[1] Read more: Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us – Give God The Blues Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Related posts

Sacred Grief, Holy Help

Privilege and the Compassion Deficit

Compassion Spills from God’s Broken Heart

God of Peace in a Violent World




J. Marshall Jenkins

About J. Marshall Jenkins

J. Marshall Jenkins is an author, psychotherapist, teacher, and spiritual director. For several years he has been writing on the Beatitudes for people in emotional pain, publishing biweekly here on his Beatitudes Blog at http://www.jmarshalljenkins.com. His newest book, Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Hope with the Beatitudes, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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8 Replies

  1. Love this!! And yes, the French Broad is such a beautiful River.

    1. YOU would love the Wild Goose Festival!

    2. J Marshall Jenkins that’s what Wanda was telling me when I saw her the other day. Maybe I can go next year! ?

  2. Thank you, Marshall — I so appreciate your words.

  3. Michael Parnell

    Maybe the reason why we have the troubles we do is we do not look for the river that runs the wrong way. In our warped minds, the river that runs what we think is right is really wrong.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Indeed. Religion can be the most powerful force behind positive change, but that same power is too often harnessed for resisting needed change. But the Holy Spirit (or Wild Goose in Celtic lore) will ultimately lead us in the right direction.

  4. You capture the beauty and essence of Wild Goose well. So glad we got to experience a bit of it again this year…

  5. It was great to see you, Jaki, and Amy there! We counted four Roman families there (Days, Jenkinses (Mike & Cheryl), Tuckers, and Jenkins/Cantrell). This time the rising Roman presence is for REAL PEACE! Let’s do it again and bring on more Romans!

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