Posted August 9, 2013
A Guest Post by Casey O’Leary
I’m attending my first Wild Goose Festival with my friend Marg. So far, it’s been a smooth journey through beautiful countryside. Still, I’m not quite sure what I’m doing here.
Marg has already written that I am not a Christian. I’ve attended churches before, but I consider myself too open-minded to identify as a Christian. I have no interest in the theology spouted on cable news shows— a theology that classifies me as less than holy for any number of reasons. As such, I’m wary of religious celebration. Public prayer makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Live music filled with song lyrics about Jesus feels awkward instead of entertaining.
I’m a librarian, so before I agreed to come to the Wild Goose Festival, I did my research. It seems to be different, more inclusive, more welcoming. I’m still nervous, though. I don’t feel I know enough about Christianity to fit in. It’s as if everyone is part of some secret club, and I don’t know the password.
Our arrival this afternoon did little to ease my mind. Marg is open and friendly. I am not. Call me “guarded,” but I need a minute or twenty to get comfortable with you before we have a conversation. Even so, I was still surprised, that no one was really saying hello to me. Maybe everyone can see that I’m an outsider, I thought. They know I don’t belong here.
So as Marg and I waited for yoga instructor Teresa Pasquale to begin an impromptu yoga and meditation session, I stood by the rain-swollen French Broad River and said, “God, I need a sign that I’m supposed to be here. Please…and thank you.”
Teresa arrived with Peyton Davis, her musical co-presenter, and we gathered together for the first reading. I lowered my gaze and closed my eyes, then opened them with a start when I heard the words, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”
I heard that prayer for the first time only a few years ago at my grandfather’s funeral. My father read it, and he told everyone that it was the standard for how my grandfather chose to live his life. I was so inspired that I bought a card with the prayer on it and started carrying it with me everywhere.
That prayer is for everyone. It’s not about following the rules or joining a club. It’s about how I can be a better companion to my fellow human beings while we share this time on earth together. It’s about how I can spend less time thinking about myself, and more time thinking about how I can be more loving and compassionate toward others. That prayer doesn’t tell me I don’t belong; it is an invitation to be part of the beautiful dance of being alive.
Maybe the Wild Goose Festival is Christianity’s version of that prayer, an invitation to be part of that beautiful, inclusive dance. Maybe there are Christians who want their religion to be more loving and compassionate, more welcoming and less judgmental.
As Teresa finished reading the prayer, tears rolled down my cheeks. It was as if my grandfather was right there, in the sand by the river, standing over me on my yoga mat. I knew I was going to be okay, that I wasn’t alone because my grandfather was with me. God was with me.
I realized I was sitting with my head bent in prayer. Me. The non-religious one. Praying and feeling the presence of God at a Christian festival.
At Wild Goose, anything can happen.
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