Wanda and I will participate in the Wild Goose Festival again on July 7-10, 2016, starting one week from today. So I share with you this meditation on our experience there in 2015. For more information, click here.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).
For the past two summers, I volunteered as a spiritual director at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. The Goose offers a pilgrim’s destination for Christians on the edges of church and society. It is indeed wild with diverse musicians, artists, and speakers coming together in the Smokies for worship, fellowship, soul-searching, and a daily “beer and hymns” gathering.
The Spirit moves palpably there amid both joy and stories of pain: By the French Broad River, a woman confides her traumatic rejection after uttering, “I am gay,” to her church family. Before the main stage, Rev. William Barber, the leader of the Moral Mondays nonviolent resistance movement in NC, preaches like King himself. Poetically and prophetically, he appealed for “necessary interruptions” against the ongoing systemic oppression African-American people there. A Cherokee musician sings and strums psalms of lament. Later Emmanuel Jal, an escaped Sudanese child soldier, leads everyone in a supercharged congregational body prayer. In telling their truth through song, speech, and dance to fellow pilgrims who affirm not only their suffering but their mission, hope emerges and joy rises.
Surely the prophets of old delight over a congregation with ears to hear their call for justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. All the anger, lament, and loneliness play in a major key. For at this Woodstock for progressive and contemplative Christians, people once mute find their voices and sing. Everyone claps and sings along.
The Holy Spirit, the Wild Goose, the Wind that formed all things out of chaos and called them good, leads this celebration. The Wind blows where it will with power like the twister with tongues of fire at Pentecost. No walls can trap this Wind. No laws can cage this Bird. No bigotry can quiet this crowd singing love.
Jesus blessed those who speak out in his name in a world in which the voice of the heart threatens the status quo. Persecution is the way the powers try to shut up the song of the Spirit. Persecution suffocates for a moment, but the Spirit breathes new life.
I cannot claim to adequately understand suffering like that of so many who speak and sing there. Seldom do I face rejection or humiliation for the color of my skin or for loving the one I love. But I know how it feels to fear living my truth, to muffle my voice, to choke back love for fear of losing face. And I know how it feels to break the silence, to burst the inner chains and dance with the oppressed as brothers and sisters at the Wild Goose Festival.