Tag Archives: Wild Goose

HOW THEY BROUGHT BACK THE TOBACCO: A Holy Spirit Reinterpretation of an Old Cherokee Story

In the beginning of the world, when people and animals were all the same, there was only one tobacco plant, to which they all came for their tobacco until the Dagûlʻkû geese stole it and carried it far away to the south. The people were suffering without it, and there was one old woman who grew so thin and weak that everybody said she would soon die unless she could get tobacco to keep her alive.

Different animals offered to go for it, one after another, the larger ones first and then the smaller ones, but the Dagûlʻkû saw and killed every one before he could get to the plant. After the others the little Mole tried to reach it by going under the ground, but the Dagûlʻkû saw his track and killed him as he came out.

At last the Hummingbird offered, but the others said he was entirely too small and might as well stay at home. He begged them to let him try, so they showed him a plant in a field and told him to let them see how he would go about it. The next moment he was gone and they saw him sitting on the plant, and then in a moment he was back again, but no one had seen him going or coming, because he was so swift. “This is the way I’ll do,” said the Hummingbird, so they let him try.

He flew off to the east, and when he came in sight of the tobacco the Dagûlʻkû were watching all about it, but they could not see him because he was so small and flew so swiftly. He darted down on the plant—tsa!—and snatched off the top with the leaves and seeds, and was off again before the Dagûlʻkû knew what had happened. Before he got home with the tobacco the old woman had fainted and they thought she was dead, but he blew the smoke into her nostrils, and with a cry of “Tsâ′lû! [Tobacco!]” she opened her eyes and was alive again.

The above story was recorded by James Mooney in the late 1890’s during his time with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Western Cherokees in Indian Country (i.e. Oklahoma). Tobacco to the ancient Cherokee was a sacred plant that was used as the “guarantee of a solemn oath in nearly every important function—in binding the warrior to take up the hatchet against the enemy, in ratifying the treaty of peace, in confirming sales or other engagements, in seeking omens for the hunter, in driving away witches or evil spirits, and in regular medical practice.” As such, loosing access to the tobacco plant was a bad thing that caused a lot of harm to the People. To help the People, the Hummingbird braved the circle of Dagûlʻkû geese and took back some leaves and seeds so that the Cherokee could regrow the plant and be restored.

Accordingly, it is said that the Hummingbird is the hero of the story with the Dagûlʻkû geese being the antagonist. However, I’m wondering if there isn’t another way to read this story in which these roles are switched. Stories, after all, typically have layers of meanings within them that come to light depending on the situation at hand. They are not meant to be static text but rather dynamic tellings that help us navigate this crazy world.

As a proponent of the Holy Spirit being the Wild Goose (An Geadh-Glas), I see the workings of the Spirit in the actions of the Dagûlʻkû. In his last hours, Jesus of Nazareth told his followers that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into truth and “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Because of this job, the Spirit sometimes must get our attention and let us know that what we are doing isn’t healthy.

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger

Therefore when the Dagûlʻkû steals the tobacco from the People, he isn’t doing it out of spite or to harm the Cherokees. Rather he is trying to bring them to the understanding that tobacco isn’t the ‘thing’ that is going to save them. The only true savior of the People is the Creator himself who brings health, peace, and balance to our lives. Our guarantee for life isn’t found in a plant, but rather in the Spirit himself who is our seal of salvation (Eph. 1:13).

This interpretation of the story gains strength when you realize that the Dagûlʻkû flew south with the tobacco. To the ancient Cherokee each of the four cardinal directions had their own symbolic meaning. Mooney records that Power (War), Peace, Death, and Defeat were the symbolic meaning of East, South, West, and North respectively. When the Dagûlʻkû flew south, he went towards peace and happiness rather than west which would have been death. This is a small detail, but an important one when considering the value of the tobacco plant to the Cherokees. The ‘theft’ of their sacred plant didn’t usher in pain and death, but peace and happiness.  

The Hummingbird, when he left, flew east towards power, war, and success. This direction foreshadows the recovery of the sacred tobacco as told within the story. Though the old woman is healed (or resurrected?) by the smoke of the plant, she will eventually die again. There are a lot of things in this world that bring temporary health to our lives even though the end is actually death. Fame, wealth, pride, greed, and selfishness are few ‘plants’ of this world that we seek after – and may even find – only to discover that they leave us empty and hollow. After all, like the Red Letters say, “What does it profit us to gain the world but lose our souls?” (Mt 16:26)

Something to think about. And in pondering it, perhaps you may see that it is right.

Celtic Christianity and the Legend of the Wild Goose

IMG_0894A cool bonus about attending St. Stephen’s University is that they have a professor who loves Celtic Christianity. Sadly enough he was on a trip during the two weeks I attended class so I was unable to meet him. However I did take advance of the school’s library which had excellent collection of Celtic Christianity books thanks to this gentlemen’s influence. =D

Buried within this collection was a copy of Ian Bradley’s “Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams.” This was a book that I have been wanting to read since 2006 – yeah, nine years is a long time to wait…but wow, the book was worth it!

Ian Bradley is a British academic, author, and theologian who teaches at University of St Andrews in Scotland. With over 30 books in print, Bradley is one of the most well-known experts on Celtic Christianity and spirituality. His book “Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams” reflects the depth of his knowledge in this area as he traces the development of Celtic Christianity from the early days of the Celtic church to today.

History, while only lived once, is never really static with folks of the current time reading their own wishes and desires back into the actions and thoughts of their forefathers. The various quests for the historical Jesus is a prime example of this human tendency. Bradley, being a professor of church history, not only looks at what actually happened on the British Isle, but also at how folks interpreted the historical events.

In other words just like there has been three quests for the historical Jesus within modern times, there have been multiple movements in which the Celtic Christianity was used as a political pawn. Bradley looks at all these movements, from the time when Celtic Christianity was used as a standard against the Roman Catholic Church (i.e. the Celtic church developed independent of Rome in ancient times so its descendants need not look towards Rome) to the time when the Roman Catholic Church used it against the Protestants (i.e. the Celtic saints of old honored Rome, therefore its descendants need to do so). Etc., etc.

All in all, Bradley’s book Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams” is definitely worth reading if you are at all interested in Celtic Christianity and spirituality. It gives you a frame work to understand all the different players and political/religious motivations behind the books.

Wild Goose Chase PaintingOn a personal note, the primary reason I wanted to read this book was that I had heard that Bradley addressed the historical origins of the legend of the Wild Goose. And in reading the book, I found that he does in fact address the legend…only it is not an origin that I particularly like…granted, it was the origin that I figured I would find. =P In other words, the legend of the Wild Goose, according to Bradley, was most likely started in the early 20th century by George Macleod, the founder of the Iona Community which operates the Wild Goose Publications and Wild Goose Worship Group.

However even though the ancient historically of the legend isn’t quite there, I have to mention that I’m still going to promote the legend (just without the historical claim). The reason I’m going to do this is not just because I have a vested interest in the legend (even though having a painting, tattoo and blog site connected to the legend does mean I have a lot to lose if I give up on the story!). Rather, my decision to retain the legend is due to cultural and biblical reasons. Allow me to explain.

If one was to search the Scriptures, you would find that the only time the Hold Spirit is symbolized as a dove is at Jesus’ baptism (as recorded in all four Gospels). This is very telling at all other times within the Old and New Testaments, the symbols of the Spirit are oil, water or fire. So why do the four Gospel writers use the symbol of a dove?

R. Alan Streett answers this question in his book “Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now.” In this book, Streett talks about how the Romans practiced augury divination (i.e. interpreting omens from the observed flight of birds) with the eagle being especially important to them as eagles were the sacred animals of Jupiter (supreme god of the Romans). When a new emperor took over, they would seek to have an eagle land on their arms and/or body as a testimony of the good pleasure of Jupiter towards themselves.

In the baptism of Jesus, the Gospels tell us that God the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. This was, as the spoken words of God the Father confirmed, a testimony of the good pleasure of the Supreme Creator toward Jesus, the Son. In other words, the reason the Gospel writers use the symbol of the dove (or should I say, the reason God revealed himself as a dove) was that they were contracting the rule and kingdom of Jesus over and against the rule and kingdom of the Roman Emperor.

The kingdom of Rome was symbolized by the eagle (a meat-eating birds of prey)while the kingdom of God was symbolized by the dove (a gentle, nonviolence bird). Rome ruled through fear, violence and war; Jesus rules through love, peace and his self-sacrificing death on a cross. Two different views of kingdom; each symbolized by a bird.

So what does this have to do with the Wild Goose legend?

The point of this back story is that the Gospel writers used the dove as a symbol for the Holy Spirit because it fit the culture of the time. In today’s culture and time, I believe there is a need for a new symbol that will catch the imagination of a new generation of people.

For me, I love the picture of the Wild Goose and the wild mystery that it represents. The age of the symbol is not as important as whether or not the symbol captures the essence of God and pulls you into the radical nature of the rule of Jesus. Geese, after all, are prey animals like doves – highlighting the value of the Cross and the way of peace.

Thank you George Macleod for creating/promoting the symbol of the Wild Goose.

A Four-Fold Blessing

Yeah…this video sums it up…

BTW – Some of you will recognize the prayer in the video as it has been making the rounds under the name “An Franciscan Blessing.” However it actually has no connection to the Franciscans. It was written by the Benedictine Sister Ruth Fox of Sacred Heart Monastery for a Dickinson State University graduation in 1985. Sadly Sister Ruth Fox’s name has been removed from the blessing/prayer as it made the rounds online (I even posted it in 2013 without her name). =(

For the record, here is the original blessing:

May God bless you with discontent with easy answers, half truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live from deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, abuse, and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and to change their pain to joy.

May God bless you with the foolishness to think you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.

If you have the courage to accept these blessings, then God will also bless you with:

    • Happiness – because you will know that you have made life better for others.
    • Inner peace – because you will have worked to secure an outer peace for others.
    • Laughter – because your heart will be light.
    • Faithful friends – because they will recognize your worth as a person.

These blessings are yours – not for the asking, but for the giving – from One who wants to be your companion, our God, who lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen

Wild Goose Chase: Big Changes Coming In 2014

Wild Goose Chase PaintingWithin each life there are markers that one can look back upon knowing that they changed the trajectory of that life. This past Sunday was one such marker in Emily and my life as well as in the life of the Payette River Vineyard Christian Fellowship.

Namely, Emily and I asked the church to release us as pastors and to send us out on a new adventure with Jesus.

Yes, you read that correctly. Over the course of the next six to nine months, Emily and I will be stepping down as senior pastors of the Payette River Vineyard Christian Fellowship. We will also be selling our house this year and moving back to Boise for a time of sabbatical rest (hopefully by this fall if possible).

While there are many motivators in our lives pointing us this way, one of the biggest motivators is our desire to share the message of Jesus to others. Basically we would like start another church, as crazy as that may sound… there are just too many places that need a healthy, spirit-filled, kingdom of God community….and, well, we are craziness enough to “yes, Lord, send me.”

No, we don’t really know where we would start another church. We have a few places on our heart, but we don’t know for sure if that is where we are going to end up or if Jesus has another location in mind… at the present moment all we know for sure is that we are to transition out of PRV and get ready for the next adventure.

The really cool thing is that the Lord had prepared the PRV church members without our knowledge. We were all nervous about telling them what God had placed on our heart only to find out that God had already told most of them that we were leaving. It was an amazing thing! God had prepared the way for us, all we had to do start walking. 🙂

As you can imagine, we have a lot of work to do in 2014 to get ready… not only do we have to finish some repairs on the house and sell it, we have to locate a new pastor for the PRV Fellowship…. We are meeting on January 19th as a body to start a discernment process with that goal in mind… we will see what the Lord does (by the way, if anybody knows a good pastor, say one who wants to semi-retire to awesome mountain village in Idaho, let me know!)

All in all, 2014 should be an interesting year.  😛

School Postponed

It is with a sad heart that I write as I am not going to be able to attend this Fall’s module at SSU. I have been hoping beyond hope that I would be able to do so, but the current state of things is such that I’m not going to be able to make it (note this is not just a money decision as the funds were available)……it has been a rough year, one that I was not expecting…

Perhaps circumstances will change that I will be able to go next Fall…only God knows.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to read and chase the Wild Goose into the wilderness of life.