Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:7-8).
On July 11-14, 2019, I attended Wild Goose Festival 2019 in Hot Springs, North Carolina. As I discussed in posts after previous festivals, the Goose always includes powerful speakers for the diverse blend of evangelical and mainline Christians who care about authentic faith and social justice for the poor and marginalized. Speakers this year included Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Diana Butler Bass, Stan Mitchell, Shane Claiborne, Barbara Brown Taylor, William Barber, and more. They did not disappoint.
Nor did the music disappoint. I was especially excited to hear Beth Nielsen Chapman, whose “Sand and Water,” a lyrical and contemplative tribute to her late husband, has moved me for two decades.
Nor did those disappoint who, like me, lack star power but nevertheless have a life of loving witness to live. I met many fellow pilgrims. But those who visited me for spiritual direction touched me especially, all in their own ways navigating liminal space on their walk with God.
Nor did the mountains disappoint, the lush trees and morning mists surrounding the tents, campers, stages, and food vendors. Mother nature made a haven for the diverse crowd of all ages, and diverse races, sexual orientations, and spiritual persuasions. The French Broad River flowed steadily north. The birds sang over the faraway traffic, and for all the conversation and song, silence always seemed ready at hand for the heart that sought it by the river.
So many say they find God out in nature, not in church, the institution with its formalities and politics. Such folks find kindred spirits at the Goose, fellow travelers wounded and disillusioned by the church.
Yet to me, the Goose bears more powerful witness to a paradox that the spiritual-but-not-religious risk missing: God meets us in nature, yes, and in silence and solitude in which we may lift up our hearts. But God meets us too in the mess of human relationships and conflicts, in the embracing and arguing, in the listening and validating, in the risks of love. At the Wild Goose Festival 2019, mountains that lift up our hearts surround a sacred valley of humanity with all its sin and searching, all its conflict and forgiveness, all its disillusionment and dreaming expressed in speeches from the main stage and conversations over Veggie Things from the Sugar Shack.
After five years of posting on this Beatitudes Blog, this is my first post headed by two Beatitudes, the blessings of the merciful and the pure in heart. Both lead to the beatific vision of the one loving God. Purity of heart comes with detachment from whatever draws us away from God, whatever in God’s creation we elevate in our hearts to rival the Creator. Walks in the woods, listening to uplifting music, and contemplative silence by the river help with that.
Yet whenever Jesus went to a secluded place to pray, soon enough he rejoined the fray, healing and arguing and teaching and listening. At the Wild Goose Festival 2019, compassion for the hungry, thirsty, alien, naked, sick, and imprisoned moves us to reach out, ask questions, and offer what we can. We do so seeking divine presence like anyone who walks in the woods or prays in silence. For Jesus said, “
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
So we gather in his name, walk the muddy pathways after the rain to hug and sing and share stories of peacemaking, beating swords into plowshares, or just overcoming our shame and finding our voices. “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). And so he meets us there every year as he did at the Wild Goose Festival 2019, a place where beauty purifies the heart, a gathering where love flows like the river.
Wild Goose Festival 2018: Faces That Keep Calling Me Back
Wild Goose Festival 2017: Come to the Banquet and Be Filled
Wild Goose Festival 2016: Mourning and Dancing by the River
Voices of the Wild Goose Festival