This morning, I was driving past our pasture on my way home from a neighbor’s. The grass is all still dead, of course, but the sheep were valiantly spread out and looking for something—anything—green. I slowed down to take in the beautiful sight. “Pastoral” was the first word that came to mind, and Beethoven music started going through my head.
And then I counted them. Eight close to the road. Coco Puff the Ram at the top of the slope (no, we haven’t managed to haul him off to the meat packer yet). That makes nine. Where was number ten? Who was missing?
Maybelle? She always lambs early. Could she be off somewhere, in labor? A moment later, I spotted her with the eight ewes close to the road.
Roll call time. Two white ones, Dot and Bianca, here. Two black ones, Nera and Licorice, here. Little black one, Peoria, born way out of season last summer, here. Maybelle here. Dilemma the Ram, here. Coco Puff the Ram, up on the slope. Where’s Conundrum? Oh, right there. Who does that leave? Who? Enigma, the mother of Dilemma and Conundrum. Where is she? She’s never gone off and lambed this early. Is she alright?
Worried, I sped down the road and into our driveway. As I pulled in, I spotted Enigma by herself, browsing for hay at the bottom of the feeder. (The picture to the right is of her and Dilemma the Ram, last April, soon after his birth.) I smiled with relief, parked the car, and went to work.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Here I am, with just ten sheep, and I get all worried when one isn’t accounted for — and so relieved when I’ve found her. How much more concerned must God be, when we don’t show up or do the things he’d been expecting us to do? How much more relieved must he be, when we return and do what he’d been hoping for us to do?
The longer we live here, the better I come to understand how deeply the agricultural parables in the Bible must have resonated with their original audience. In fact, they likely had a deep resonance for centuries. One wonderful thing about rural life is that a person has lots of opportunities to think and reflect — even while doing and working at other things. St. Josemaria Escriva called this being “a contemplative in the middle of the street.” I sure like having, for my street, a gravel road that connects Nowhere with Noplace.
But, that said, it is no less possible to be a contemplative in the middle of a bustling city. It’s certainly tougher sometimes, but the “shepherd moments” can still be found all around. I sure hope you find one for yourself today, whatever street you may find yourself on.