The haunting autumn sound of the call of the returning wild geese is one of nature’s great sounds, a sign that they are back. It is an exciting moment.
The Wild Geese are back
The arrival of the winter geese is a dramatic spectacle, full of noise, wing beats, excitement and the unmistakable call of the wild echoing across the landscape. These travellers from distant lands come like mysterious emissaries from other worlds, drawn to these islands by an irresistible force. They bring us a taste of the arctic and remind us ‘that the globe is still working’. We have been waiting for them. Now we are glad to welcome them back and call them ours for the winter season.
The writer Jim Crumley said the arrival of the returning pink-footed geese flying over his family home in Dundee to over-winter in the Tay estuary was, for him, the sound of autumn.
These visitors have flown epic journeys across stormy seas. wild mountains, navigating into our human world of power-lines, wind turbines and crowded cities. Now they are back, tumbling out of the air on to lakes, river estuaries and farm fields, their winter home, full of noise and excitement. Early tomorrow morning the dramatic spectacle will be repeated as the whole flock rises and flies out to the day-time feeding grounds, returning in the evening. These daily dramas excite eager birdwatchers throughout the winter.
The Wild Goose legend
There is an Iona legend that the Celtic Christians sometimes used the wild goose to symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit as well as the traditional image of a dove. I can understand their reasoning.
Just as we wait for the coming of the wild geese, so too they waited for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. When he came on the Day of Pentecost everything was changed and the Christian church began to grow.
It was that ‘Wild Goose’ charisma of the Holy Spirit that called Patrick back to Ireland, brought Columba to Iona and Aiden to Lindesfarne. These men and women of great faith and courage were empowered to make a huge impact upon the Britain of their day. The process has continued in our present age in the Spirit-driven expansion of the Christian church worldwide.
The ‘Wild Goose’ still calls
Malcolm Guite recalls how, as a student back-packing around Ireland looking for meaning and purpose in his life, he met a local man on a beach in Donegal, at a place called Colmcille. Upon hearing Malcolm’s name the man told him that he had come ‘home’, for this was the very beach from which his namesake, Saint Columba, had set sail in 568 for Iona where he established his monastery. As you can imagine it made a profound impression on Malcolm, calling him back to his lost Christian faith. Speaking of Columba he writes in his sonnet for St Columba’s Day:
You called me and I came to ColmcilleFrom Malcolm’s sonnet for St Columba’s Day – June 9th.
To learn at last the meaning of my name
Though you yourself were called, and not the caller,
He called through you and when He called I came.
Christians treasure the image of the Holy Spirit as the gentle dove called alongside us to help, comfort and inspire. He is the presence of Christ with us. But as I read the Bible I’m conscious that I also need to listen for that challenging call where deep calls to deep, an inner voice, a sense of a glorious divine presence. Sometimes a whisper with a still small voice of comfort, sometimes a rebuke. At other times an unmistakable call challenging and beckoning me on. His charisma is irresistible. He comes to fulfill God’s purposes. Am I still listening?