Cover art from “Chasing the Wild Goose: The Story of the Iona Community.” (IonaBooks.com)
Think of chaos, and images of bedlam, disorder, confusion and disarray probably come to mind—all things that make me want to run in the opposite direction.
But there's another way to look at chaos. We find it when we take the time to dig deeper into the word's origins, where we discover that chaos can mean the formless matter that existed prior to creation.
Instead of mayhem and madness, in chaos we can also find promise and potential: the very good idea that something can come from nothing. "Good" is, in fact, what God declared creation to be. As part and extension of God's creation, we can through eyes of faith see potential where others may see only formless matter. In creative chaos, possibility becomes reality.
The people of PelhamRoadBaptistChurch in Greenville, S,C., like chaos so much that they recently undertook an intense and intentional period called 30 Days of Chaos.
It all started with a sermon. Pastor John Roy talked about Celtic worship and the Celts' use of the wild goose instead of the traditional dove to symbolize the Holy Spirit.
"A wild goose is hard to catch," he said. "Basically you can only follow a wild goose."
The congregation subsequently invested 30 days in listening, watching and praying for God's spirit to lead them to unique ministry opportunities among people in their community who might otherwise be overlooked. The effort was both individual and collective and had everyone involved in what probably resembled a wild goose chase at times.
For example, Beverly Helton, a real estate agent, searched online for names of people in the area who had overpaid their property taxes. She then personally visited as many of them as possible and explained how they could get their money back. One family stands to receive nearly $4,000.
Choir members assembled gift baskets for a restaurant's dishwashers. Church staff members took firefighters out to lunch. A Sunday school class collected gifts for a children's shelter and is helping finance their summer field trips. One individual is mentoring a struggling parent in her neighborhood; another is leading an effort to assist firefighters and families whose houses burn.
Associate pastor Sam Coates said, "We are intentionally creating chaos in the routine of everyday life by discovering people who may need an extra measure of encouragement and the good news that God loves them."
The neighborhood where I used to live in Birmingham included a lake that was inhabited by more than its fair share of geese. Every year I watched them arrive, make nests, hatch eggs and raise their babies, then head south when the weather began to get cold. Occasionally the mother geese would pick unusual places in the neighborhood to make their nests and wait for their babies to hatch.
One spring, Mother Goose made her nest in the boulevard of one of the neighborhood's busy streets, which also happened to be my standard walking path. Every day as I and others passed, on foot and bicycles and in cars, she wouldn't just stare; she would glare, daring us to get too close to her nest. A couple of times when I walked by—always from a safe distance on the other side of the street—she hissed at me. I considered myself duly warned.
I'm not sure what set her off this particular day, but I suddenly found myself being chased by a wild goose. It was not a pretty sight. People passing in cars pointed and laughed. One guy stopped to say something to tease me but was laughing so hard he couldn't get the words out. Or maybe he finally did; I was too busy trying to evade a very angry goose to find out.
All that to say: I've never followed a wild goose. The idea somehow just never appealed to me.
Following a wild goose must certainly be more interesting—and a lot safer—than being chased by one.
Sounds like just the kind of creative chaos our world needs.