Goose bottoms

We’ve lived at our current address for seven years now. And while there’s plenty to love about this house, the best thing has to be the lake views we have from the back. Living here has taught me that water is always changing. It moves or is still. It reflects colored leaves or blue skies and clouds. Its surface is hidden by evening mists or morning fog. It freezes, melts, and freezes again in patterns of light and dark rarely repeated and always intriguing.

I have watched this lake through six winters. And whether our coldest months are frigid or mild, one thing remains constant. Most nights, as autumn begins to lose its grasp on the world, large numbers of geese gather on the water. They come from several different flocks, gliding onto the surface in groups that then make their way to what seems to be a central meeting place. As the colder temperatures set in, the geese settle in a well-defined and shrinking area of water. They gather at the edge of what has frozen, lining up next to each other along the icy boundary that threatens their access to the water.

I have seen hundreds of geese sit on that edge through storms of wind and snow and freezing rain. At times they have honked loudly enough to wake me up at 2 or 3 in the morning. They sit, bottom to bottom along the edge of winter, holding that edge warm enough to keep from freezing. They do not fly away as long as they are able to ensure that even a small bit of lake will remain unfrozen.

In our recent storms the geese have been out in force. And even now, although none of them are left on the lake, the border they kept warm is still visible. The ice is much thinner there, and will be the first to melt when temperatures inch past 32 degrees.

Thinking about how goose bottoms can keep a lake from freezing, I realized that what these geese do on the lake behind my house is a pretty good image of what the Church is called to do in the world. We Christians are commissioned to be in the world and yet not of it. We are challenged to keep the world--and human hearts-- from freezing over entirely. The nights may be cold, and storm after storm may come, but our presence out there on the edge of the water is meant to preserve the whole of humanity.

Still, just as a few goose bottoms can’t give enough warmth to maintain access to the food supply they all need, none of us can do it alone either. But if we all would venture to the icy edge, we could keep our world from sinking completely into a frozen, lifeless winter of meaninglessness and doubt. We could keep some part of our culture warm enough to serve as the place where the melting begins.

In a world where the basics of Western civilization are becoming harder to find, where people seem to have less in common with every passing year, our place is on that wintry edge that threatens the sustenance we all need. As we approach not only winter’s darkest day, but the glorious light and warmth of Christ’s incarnation, I ask, “Who will join me on the ice?” Perhaps walking on water in our time means just that. Indeed, it may be Jesus we see camped on the frozen expanse of our world and of our souls. Who of us will sit together with him on the edge of what is growing cold and keep it warm until the spring of evangelization comes once more?

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.