Taking Flight: God’s Part and My Part in Christian Spiritual Formation

Soren Kirekegaard (1813 to 1855) could be quite playful and pithy as he addressed the individual and corporate demands of the Christian life.  Like those of Jesus, Kierkegaard’s parables could/can sneak up on you — hitting you with truth when you least expect it.

The other day, I was introduced to one of his parables that I had not heard before.  It speaks to a paradox which we return to over and over again in our conversations about spiritual formation: namely, the essential tension of our part and of God’s/Grace’s part in our spiritual healing and development.

barnyard gooseA certain flock
of geese lived
together in a barnyard with
high walls around it. Because the corn
was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk.

One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travelers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.’

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often, he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.

And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”

Yes, God and Grace have equipped us to soar…
and filled our lives with reminders of that great promise!
And, small though it may be (in comparison to these rich gifts),
ours it still the responsibility (i.e., the ability to respond)–
of trusting and
of stretching wings and
of slipping the bonds of comfort zones and insecurities.

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