Spiritual Reflections on Our Earth by a Wise Catholic Sister: A Glimpse of Geese

     Since Monday, we’ve been offering Earth Day-themed reflections by Sister Mary McCann, one of the pioneering IHM Sisters, who have turned their Motherhouse and its grounds into a world-class example of green redesign. Plus, the sisters have devoted their entire religious order to work that heals the Earth.
    Here’s one of two reflections we’re sharing today by Sister Mary McCann — and, check out the note at the end of today’s story if you’ve been enjoying her spiritual voice and want more.

    A few weeks back I saw newborn goslings feeding in the grass. My heart swelled with delight. Here were two families of Canada geese — one with seven newborns, the other with five — behaving in textbook fashion.
    Once goslings are hatched, “ma and pa” are partners in their care. They constantly monitor the whereabouts, well-being and possible threats to their offspring. As I watched an “outsider” goose move in the direction of the family of five, one parent ran full speed at the intruder, its long beak and a menacing hiss directed at the outsider. Clear family boundaries prevail at this stage.
    Since my first sighting, I have watched the parents leading the newborns to food sources in the grasses, fields and at human feeding stations. The young ones are growing quickly. Later they will learn to feed off the river bottom in shallow waters. And flying will extend feeding opportunities dramatically, including our IHM organic garden, meadows and fields.
    Goslings swim instinctively.
    I watch as their parents lead them to the water. As on land, they travel as a unit, learning when to stay close to the shore, when to venture into the depths, when to cross over to the island. You can almost feel the tension in the adults’ bodies as they keep an eye out for their little ones while watching for threats: predators from above and below, turbulent water, or an adventuresome, distracted or straggling gosling in their little family.

    Then, as I watch this family, one day I realize: Goslings are lost.
    The family of seven goslings now has six and I wonder what the sad story is. When I notice a “lost sheep,” I feel the precariousness of its facing the world alone and I wonder how the parents of a lost gosling experience grief. They have given so much love and attention only to have a bird or a turtle take a terrible toll. Or perhaps the little one got too close to the dam in the river and was swept away.
    Do the other goslings notice?

    Food, survival-training and capacity-building seem the purposes of this time in this family’s life. I know they’ll also pursue “flight training,” which I have never witnessed. I do notice that lately the goslings flap their little wings when a parent does.
    When the goslings “leave home,” they will function within a gaggle of geese, eventually mate, usually for life, staying with an injured or ill mate, grieving its eventual death.

    I recall an autumn day when I noticed a lone adult goose swimming closer and closer to the turbulent dam near my home. Can I believe my eyes? I wondered.  Minutes later the goose was dead in the swirling water. What was its story?   

    Canada geese are beautiful birds despite their reputation as intruding, dirty pests. We humans often resent their presence and droppings in our parks, beaches, yards, golf courses, farmers’ fields. For the geese, however, these places are restaurants serving their favorite foods.
    Learning to live together is an ongoing challenge.
    But think about the ironic twist in this struggle over territory. We say the geese are increasing at unsustainable rates, polluting places important to human needs and enjoyment, and eating the grasses, grains, spinach, lettuce, corn and peas in our gardens and farms. This all is true and requires skilled deterrents on our part.
    The irony is that we humans have an analogous effect on the entire planet. Burgeoning population growth and our tendency as a species to think and act as if the Earth (including all creatures and resources) is here for our own purposes is like the behavior of the geese. The difference is that we can change our behavior, using the gift of conscious awareness that distinguishes humans as a species.

    This is beginning to happen.
    More and more humans see themselves as members of the Earth community — not on the Earth, but of the Earth. Millions have embraced the Earth Charter, which maps strategies for healing the planet, and are living into this in their everyday lives. The impacts of global warming are pushing us to act. Like a butterfly flapping its wings, this consciousness and these actions are reverberating around the planet.

    Where do you feel this or see this? In yourself, friends, your work partners, in your locale? Can you envision these changes winging their way all around the world?

    (By Sister Mary McCann, IHM)

    Want to read her other reflection, today? It’s “A Meadow Moment.”

    These reflections are published here, with permission from the IHM Sisters, from “A Time to Sow,” a quarterly reflection bulletin on the spirituality of sustainability. In each issue, IHM Sister Mary McCann presents readers with a reflection on a specific theme of sustainability, offers questions for personal contemplation or group discussion, and suggests additional readings and Web sites on the topics she addresses.
    Subscriptions to A Time to Sow cost $8 a year. To order go to www.ihmsisters.org and click on the Publications tab.

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