Living in the Slipstream

It was one of those beautiful pre-spring days, a rare foretaste of the warmth to come.  Gary and I were out for a late afternoon walk when we noticed a solitary goose flying north.  I said toGary, “You don’t see that too often.  I wonder if he’ll be able to keep up that pace by himself.” 

Did you know that in the Celtic Christianity of Scotland and Ireland, the wild goose is a symbol of the Holy Spirit?  After having been attacked by a goose several years ago while running, I have come to admire and respect the powerful, uncontainable, intense, beautiful, disturbing, graceful, Holy Spirit, unpredictable nature of geese.  Each time I spot a flock of geese, I am reminded of the life lessons that geese teach me.  

Most of us recognize geese by their unique V flying formation, which adds 71% greater flying range than if they were flying alone.  The reason is that as geese flap their wings, they create an uplift for the birds that follow behind and slightly off to the side.  In addition, the first goose is often able to move faster than it could independently because the geese following reduce the effect of the low-pressure region on the lead goose.

We call it drafting or slipstreaming, which applies to humans as well as geese.  When we slip inside the stream of another object, we take advantage of decreased resistance and don’t have to exert as much power to move forward as we would otherwise.  Bikers and swimmers know about drafting.  If we stay a little back and to the side of someone in front of us, we’ll discover a wake of air or water that is moving at about the same speed and carries us along.  We also see drafting in car racing, where cars who draft behind other competitors have better fuel economy because there is less atmospheric drag.  They can also build up speed before making their move to pass the car in front of them. 

If the purpose of drafting is for everyone to reach their destination faster, why not?  In group training rides weaker bikers often draft behind stronger riders so that it’s easier for everyone to stay together.  In many bike races, however, drafting is prohibited because it gives an unfair advantage to the person who is in the slip stream.  If a biker is caught racing within a certain distance of the person ahead, he or she will be automatically disqualified.

Slipstream Lesson #1

  • We can do far more together than we can by ourselves. When a community shares a common direction, we can fulfill our vision, mission, and goals more quickly and efficiently because of our joint “lifting power.”

Naturally, the goose in the front of the pack can’t fly there forever because it expends much more energy than its fellow geese.  When a lead goose becomes tired it rotates back into the formation, and another flies at the point position.  Meanwhile, the rest of the geese honk from the back of the pack to encourage those in front to maintain the pace and keep up the good work.

Slipstream Lesson #2

  • One individual cannot carry an entire community because sooner or later that person will burn out.  The apostle Paul says in 1Corinthians 12 that we are all part of one body, with each person playing a significant role.  When we take turns doing hard tasks, sharing leadership, and cheering on those in front, our interdependence strengthens the body.  During this time of March Madness, we would do well to remember that the team that plays seamlessly together will almost always beat the team with the best individual talent. 

Occasionally, a goose will be separated from the pack or become lost.  When a goose temporarily falls back, the forward thrust of the group is gone, and it immediately feels increased drag and resistance.  If the goose is able, it will speed up and return to the group.

Slipstream Lesson #3

  • Many studies have shown that choosing to go it alone without the benefit of a social network adversely affects physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  On the other hand, connecting and staying “in formation” with those who are on the same path leads to greater fulfillment and satisfaction.

If a goose is ill or is shot down, 2 other geese will leave the pack to drop down and stay with the injured goose until it recovers or dies.  Their job is to care for and protect their comrade, and once the injured goose is able, the 3 birds either rejoin the original flock or find another flock.  Geese are equally protective of their young.  That’s what happened when the goose literally got in my hair.  I was unknowingly running in their breeding ground and was seen as a threat.  

Slipstream Lesson #4

  • We are called to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.  Reaching out to those inside and outside the church with care and concern is a critical ministry.  Do not underestimate the power of a hospital or nursing home visit, a phone call, a hug on Sunday morning, or a casual conversation in a coffee shop.  All church members, not just the pastor, are called to surround those who are hurting and offer grace and hope.      

We’ve all heardCanadageese honk, but few know that they may have up to 13 different goose calls.  Geese are sophisticated communicators, and there is evidence that goslings begin talking with their parents before the egg even hatches! Canadageese mate for life, maintain tight family units, and are known to wave their necks and honk festively when reunited with separated family members.

Slipstream Lesson #5

  • Communication keeps us connected and strengthens the fabric of community.  The root word for both “communication” and “community” is the Latin “communicare,” which means “to share” or “to make common.”  It’s difficult to stick together without sharing concerns, expressing gratitude, and admitting our need to slip inside the stream of others at times.    

Canada geese are migratory animals who travel south in the fall, just like our snowbirds do.  They also have staging places or rest stops along with way.  Before the fall and spring migrations, geese eat a lot and store up reserves for the rigors of travel and mating.   

Slipstream Lesson #6

  • Our journey through life is long and arduous as well, necessitating the nourishment of intentional spiritual formation and times for renewal along the way.  Is your life in Christ balanced between action and reflection, social and personal holiness, leading and drafting?

In colloquial conversation, to slipstream has the broader meaning of following closely behind someone in order to make things easier.  On a hike, we walk behind someone who moves away the branches and warns us about rocks.  When we cross country ski we let the lead person cut the trail.  By riding in a caravan, we don’t have to use a map.  The person in front always has the most difficult task: setting the pace, finding directions, and identifying hazards.

I thank God that I can live in the slipstream of Jesus and honk endlessly of his goodness and love.  It is Jesus who blazed the trail for us, living out God’s call by teaching, preaching, loving, serving, suffering, dying, and rising from the dead.  I want to draft off Jesus, following right behind and blown along by the Holy Spirit.   

But the Christian life is not quite that simple, is it?  Living in the slipstream doesn’t mean hiding behind Jesus, avoiding difficult challenges, or acquiescing to secular culture.  In fact, Jesus commissions each one of us to go out into the world and create shalom for all of God’s people.  To be a disciple of Jesus Christ by living in his slipstream is to bring in God’s kingdom by living in community, taking our turn to lead, drafting when necessary, and honking the good news.

  • Now is the time to take turns leading fearlessly and boldly, drafting off each other to renew our energy, and then heading off again on what seems to the unaware like wild goose chases. 
  • Now is the time to forgive, show mercy, and let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 
  • Now is the time to insist that love is stronger than fear, faithfulness is more important than comfort, and the inclusivity of the V formation is more effective than flying alone. 

Honk if you’re living in the slipstream!

Blessings, Laurie

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