At Wild Goose, I heard Barbara Brown Taylor speak. My friend Jessica loves her. She references her often. Honestly, that should have been enough for me to go out and read everything BBT has ever written, but for whatever reason, I hadn’t. Some of the speakers at Goose, like Reverend Otis Moss III, thundered and rolled. Some speakers, like Jen Hatmaker, made me laugh and cry. And some, like Barbara Brown Taylor, made me think.
One of the parts of her talk that really resonated with me was when she spoke of “thin places.” There is a belief in ancient Celtic mysticism that thin places give us an opening into the Divine. There’s a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only ever three feet part, but in thin places, they’re even closer. A thin place is where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and we are able to get a glimpse of God.
She said that Goose is a thin place. I absolutely believe that to be true.
My experience this year was a little different because Favorite was unable to come with me. I have informed him that was a one-off. As sad as I was that he wasn’t there, it changed my experience in some profound ways. I drove down to North Carolina with one of my best friends, Johnny Sunshine. That’s not his ACTUAL last name, though it should be. Fourteen hours in the car, forty-seven of them in Virginia. We never turned on the radio. Talked and talked and talked. Laughed.
Something in me cracks open at Wild Goose in a way that doesn’t happen any other place. I walk around wide open. I smile at strangers more, I initiate conversations more, conversations go deep right away- precious little small talk at Goose. I’m less quick to decide who people are before they have a chance to tell me. I attract stories like mosquitoes at Goose. They seek me out.
Last year I’d agreed to lead a recovery meeting at the festival – there’re plenty, which is good since they also have Beer and Hymns every night. I went into the tent when it was time, and there was one dude and me. I’ll call him Joe. I felt a little anxious because men sometimes make me anxious. He was very different than me, on the surface – but the thing about Goose is that nothing ever stays surface-y there for me. We sat down and he started to tell me my story. I mean, it was his, of course, but aside from some details, it was mine.
For the rest of the weekend, every time we saw each other we hugged. Talked. Joe came to my presentation and sought me out afterward to tell me what it meant to him and how he related to my talk on shame and trauma. We were connected. We talked about seeing each other the following summer – this man who’d made me so nervous at first.
Is that because God is closer to me at Goose? I don’t know. I wonder if it isn’t less about the thinness between me and the Divine and more about my ability to be still and notice it.
It’s not just Wild Goose, of course, Maine is that way for me, too. Maine and Goose are two places where I don’t time travel. I slow down. I mean, physically- I sloooow down. I walk slower. I am a super fast walker by nature. I legit stroll at Goose. I sit still and do nothing. I’m not on to the next thing in my head. I’m not mentally multitasking. What that means is that I fully experience everything and everyone both places have to offer me- and perhaps that just means I am aware that God is RIGHT HERE, in the messy middle of things with me.
There’s a saying in recovery that if you find yourself far away from God, you’re the one who moved.
I like the idea behind that even though I find the underlying premise to be utterly untrue.
The reality is I have never, ever been far from God. Not when I was furious, not when I said I didn’t believe, never. Not when I was being abused as a child, not when I was an angry teenager, not when I was a terrified young, single mother, and not when I was a hopeless alcoholic. God was always with me, on the linoleum floor, in the college bar, in the rocking chair with my son at 3:00 a.m., and at rock bottom. Always. No more than three feet away. Sort of like a friendly version of the creature in Alien. You know that scene when Sigourney Weaver is staring straight ahead and the monster’s face is right up against hers, off to the side?
In those moments I may have felt forsaken, but all I had to do was turn my head. Maybe thin places for me are the ones in which I have an easier time pivoting toward God.
I kept having these moments up in the mountains of North Carolina when it was clear to me I was on holy ground. That something important was happening. Something sacred. That I needed to pay attention and be still. Bear witness.
When we first arrived, we met my friend Matt Bays and his beautiful daughter. My amazing friend Cori, an Episcopal priest who we met and fell in love with last year, was there too. We were all in the same little spot on the banks of the French Broad River.
When we got to the campsite, there was a young woman trying to set up her tent. She was sobbing. Johnny Sunshine immediately sat at the picnic table with her and started being Johnny Sunshine. So naturally, she told him all of the things. She told him the reason she was crying, I mean – other than the fact that setting up a tent by yourself is wretched – was that she’d planned on coming to Goose with her friend, a guy she met in recovery. He’d come last year and had a great experience and talked her into accompanying him this year.
He died a short time ago.
She came by herself in the hopes of meeting someone, anyone, who knew him.
I walked over to the picnic table and Johnny told me a bit of her story – she was still crying. She asked me if, by chance, I’d met him. She showed me his photo on her phone. I looked down at the picture and realized I was in a sacred moment.
I sat still on the bench with the sound of the river rushing behind us, with three feet of picnic table between us, and talked to her about her friend. My friend.
I didn’t need to turn my head to know that the face of God was right beside me.
“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between this world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.