(image via Pixabay)
I called my friend a cow just a moment ago, and she was pleased.
She wrote that she felt like the Canaanite woman, a dog eating crumbs from the table, when she goes to church. I feel the same way half the time.
“No,” I said. “You’re not a dog. Remember when you told me you thought cows were beautiful? You’re one of those beautiful copper colored dairy milk cattle that give the richest cream and you shine when the sunlight catches you, you don’t even look real, when people paint pastoral scenes on big canvases they have to tone your color down to look realistic because they’re practically orange. If you have to be an animal, call yourself that. And Our Father is a vegetarian, so you’ve nothing to worry about. Just be you.”
I realized afterwards that I’d called a woman I respect immensely a cow, but she took it in the way it was meant.
My friend is a dairy cow in the barnyard of life. She’s a bright copper creature that glows like an angel in the right light, but to the blind she is only a cow. Our Father bought her at auction at the highest price. He couldn’t bear to watch her abused. Now she lives in His pasture, and there are hecklers and bullies on the farm who would tell her she isn’t any good, that it’s their farm and not hers, but she’s beautiful.
As for me, I am a fat and lame black ewe.
Quite a few years ago now, I ended up going on retreat while seriously ill. I’ve always struggled with insomnia, and the doctor had given me a sleep aid that it turns out I’m severely sensitive to– I have to wear a bright orange allergy alert bracelet whenever I go to the hospital and everything. But I didn’t know that then. I took my pills as directed and I went on retreat, and while on retreat I was tortured by unrelenting neurological horrors like you wouldn’t believe. On the outside, I think I just looked like a tearful sloppy drunk. Inside, I was in pain and probably would have died if it had gone on long enough.The retreat was being held at a sheep farm– not an efficient factory farm but a nice homey small farm with barn full of pampered sheep. The sheep had just had their winter lambs. The barn was full of lambs; my retreat group got to witness them being let outside into the fold for the first time.
I didn’t pay attention to any of the talks at the retreat. I couldn’t tell you much of what happened there. I was too sick to care. But I kept stuffing my trembling arms into my parka and stumbling outside to the barn, to see the lambs. I snuggled them, and I petted their mothers. There’s nothing exactly like wool when it’s still on the sheep. Those who think of wool as something to do with itchy sweaters can’t understand what it really is. When you pet a live sheep, the wool feels like warm silk threads and it leaves lanolin oil on your skin. Snuggling a lamb is like getting a manicure. It’s like receiving anointing of the sick. And after I received my little, non-sacramental anointing from the lambs, I’d go back into the retreat center feeling a little better. The pain backed off for a moment, every time.
While I was there, the farmer saw me petting an old ewe that was kneeling by herself, both legs bent under her like the Slain but Standing Lamb in church art. The farmer explained to me that that sheep went lame after having a lamb. She hadn’t walked since. Nobody could tell them why. The farmer told me she’d been told to put the ewe out of its misery, but she couldn’t bear to. So she kept her on the straw, brought her food and water by hand, and cared for her.