Wild Geese (by Mary Oliver)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
You don’t have to be good. Do any of us really believe that? We spend a lot of our time trying to earn our goodness, prove that we are worthy, through a multitude of things we try to do, or not to do. What if we accepted the fact that we are already good, worthy and accepted? To even say that feels “heretical” doesn’t it? It’s a radical concept to know that our goodness or badness doesn’t earn us anything in God’s view. So many have spent their lives repenting rather than loving and trusting. You already belong – child of God.
It’s said that Mary Oliver wrote this poem while she was at Iona Abbey. Church and religion has a lot to do with repenting, earning and attempting to make ourselves worthy. But I picture her standing there, seeing the wild geese flying high up in the air as she stood on that beautiful spot by the Abbey. And it hit her, it dawned on her, the muse, God the Spirit came and she understood that it’s not about repenting or religion, but about relationship with God makes all the difference in the world and in our souls. And in that relationship we experience freedom – freedom to be ourselves, perhaps even to love ourselves and to allow ourselves to be loved.
Remember as Richard Rohr said,
“God doesn’t love you because you are good*. God loves you because God is good!
(*Though I think, at our core, we are good. God knows that and we have just forgotten).
A prayer: Change me, O God, into one who lives in the freedom of knowing I do not have to be good, I do not even have to worry about my “badness”, but just trust in you, your love and to be free. Who, rather than spending my life repenting and worrying about worthiness, spends my days enjoying, knowing, loving you and being free.