Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chewing Cud

For the goat herder, there is no more peaceful sight than a bunch of goats placidly chewing their cud. For the ruminant, cud chewing is essential to good health. If you have ever seen a goat demolish dead leaves, bark, twigs and branches, you can believe that it would take an excellent digestion to get nutrition from it. Enter the rumen – that vital bacteria vat that cooks the mass and sends it back to the goat for further mastication. I don’t think goats chew the first time around – it just get inhaled, so to speak. So when I see my fluffy, white does sunning themselves and the steady grind, grind, grind of the lower jaw, I know all is well. It is especially comforting to see in an orphan baby because I know that they are successfully making the transition from bottle to regular food. When you are their “mama” so to speak, you must take great care to transition them as the rumen activates.
It is pretty funny to see their fat, squirrel-like cheeks. I wonder what they think about while they are chewing away. Because for the goats that I observe, cud chewing is not something you do on the run. You do not multi-task while you chew your cud!
It occurred to me that reading scripture must become like that for me. It is not enough to read it daily. Often I forget it almost as soon as I read it. And it doesn’t help, much, to just recall it on the run during the day. No, I must sit, relax and chew it thoughtfully, with the respect with which it is due.
I read the coming Sunday Mass readings throughout the week along with the daily readings. I felt pretty good that I was just getting them read every morning and training myself to recall them during the day. But to really have the Word written on my heart, in fact, to get anything out of it, I had to chew it, send it back into the brain vat, and chew it again. And to do it effectively, I can’t be doing something else.
One way I try to get myself into the daily reading plus the reading for Sunday Mass, is to try to find something new each time I read it. This came about when one Sunday reading was about leprosy and the proscriptions for it. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really want to read it every day! I didn’t have any way to relate to leprosy. However, by the sixth day I realized that leprosy was very much a part of my life. What leprosy is to the body, sin is to the soul. Leprosy kills the nerves within the body so that injury and pain aren’t felt. Consequently, undetected injuries cause the body parts to erode. Slowly, the person can injure themselves to death. I am sure this is simplistic but it is a basic understanding of Hansen’s disease. It became clear to me how sin works in the same way. It dulls my spiritual sense, opens me to the injurious lies of the devil, separates me from all that is good and holy. From that revelation I have acquired a new hatred for and vigilance against sin in my life.
Stopping, taking time to chew on scripture is very difficult for me. My life tends to be lived, “on the run”, akin to a swift moving river. But God, in His wisdom, has shown me the importance of cud chewing. Goats don’t have a choice about it – they must for a healthy life. Come to think of it – I don’t either.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Time it Takes

As Clue, my new pony, kicked up his heels and ran away, I was acutely aware that I had broken my rule of taking the time it takes. Clue has a history that I must learn without using language. I do not know and cannot know through words what he has experienced. I must read that from his body language – so eloquent if I take the time to read it. Now, as he escaped, I realized I had pushed him to fast and to far.

I purchased the pony for my granddaughters. I wanted him to be ready to ride when they come for a visit in a few weeks. I let that pressure take my focus off this little animal’s needs and trust. So as I trudged over the acres to restore the relationship there were some bitter pills to swallow.

It made me think of my relationship with Our Lord. We have an icon above our altar at church that was painted by a saintly Romanian sister. It is Jesus breaking the bread at the last supper. In His hands are the two halves of the loaf, broken, as soon His body would be upon the Cross. I fancied one time Him asking me how much bread I wanted. “All of it,” I replied. Typical of my headlong Christian walk to want a lot more than I can handle. But more importantly, the correct response should have been “whatever You want to give me”.

When I allow pressures or impatience to cloud my judgment, I become blind. I no longer see the fear in the horse’s eye, that his ears are telling me to get back, that he lunges forward to move me out of his space. I forget to take things slowly and to appreciate what the animal is bringing to the table. Sure I can muscle a horse, especially little Clue. But if I am to give him a say in the process, I must give him all the time it takes. Expediency nullifies the relationship aspect. Clue becomes a thing to be processed and not a partner to be gained.

God can muscle me. I can think of God muscling me to perfection. But I am far off the mark if I look at Him this way. Being a relationship Himself, the Lord is not about efficiency but surrender. It is about whatever You want to give me Lord. I absolutely trust in your timetable. Jesus’ own life was always full of surrender. Jesus was very clear that He came to do the Father’s Will. He didn’t lose focus. He wasn’t impatient or anxious because He surrendered and trusted.

There is something electric about having a relationship with an animal. As the human I have the responsibility to teach but more to understand. When I impose my time schedule I lose respect for this special friend. I say, in fact, I don’t care what you are feeling – do what I am telling you to do. And do it now. Any horse person will chuckle a bit and tell you that all you get from that attitude it time lost. When I respect the horse’s contribution to the relationship, it is incredible to see the surrender – willing surrender – and right after that the lesson learned. He licks his lips – a sure sign that he is comfortable and trusting.

I am so grateful that God takes the time it takes to bring me closer to Him. He respects the person He made me. He is willing to take the time to bring me incrementally into wisdom and service. And of course, God has perfect timing. If you ever want to reflect on God’s timing, look back on your life. When I remember my fifty six years I see two things: that surrender has been a process and He has never doubted that I will arrive.

Clue stood in the field, ears pricked forward, as I approached. I could see in his eyes that there was a breach of trust. I offered my hand and my apologies. He came forward.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Loving Them Across

My friend Joanne accosted me as I walked into her barn. She was spattered with mud all the way to her eyebrows. I had seen that look before and it had been on my own face.

“I’ve been trying to get Lily across the ditch for the last three hours,” she gasped, “Will you help me?”

At the back of her property was a very luscious ravine and at the bottom of which reposed a creek bed. Months before, my horse Max and I had a major altercation over this same ditch. To me, the creek wasn’t anything scary at all. To Max it was the Grand Canyon. I can’t pretend to know all the reasons horses take it into their heads to be scared – but you have to figure out how to deal with it.

So Joanne and I took her young filly down the ravine. She explained that she had tried for hours to get the horse to jump over the ditch but was unsuccessful. Judging by Lily’s rolling eyes and tense, twitching muscles, it was going to be difficult. But I had remembered my lessons with Max very well.

“Look,” I proposed, “Let’s do it a different way.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

I smiled and said, “Let’s love her across.”


“I’ve been through this with Max,” I explained, “Lily doesn’t trust us. Let’s be very calm. We have to accept that she might not cross today….but if we work on it in love she will someday.”

Joanne, fortunately, was open to learning. “Okay,” she said, “Show me what you mean.”

Using my natural horsemanship training, I began to stroke Lily and urged her to calm down and not get so excited about the ditch. We focused on confidence and authority. In fifteen minutes we had her across. In twenty she went back and forth with no worries. Using the same methods a few weeks later, she began to load into a horse trailer with no problem. Previously, you were lucky to jam her in there with a bucket of grain and quick reflexes.

I learned so much from those experiences. You can’t spout formulas or scripture verses to most people. You can’t introduce them to a loving God unless you do what Jesus did: love them across. For so many people, life has splattered them all over the pavement. A ditch is a chasm – truly an abyss separating them from all happiness. They can’t get there by words, only deeds, loving deeds that give them the confidence to ask just the simplest question: do you love me Jesus? Until they get to that point all they see is the unsurpassable ditch.

I have learned from my horses that no tiny deed goes unnoticed. Every stroke, every word builds a relationship of trust. It cannot be rushed and it must be maintained. There must be from me, an absolute commitment to inconveniencing myself for their greater good. And in addition, sticking to the truth of what horses are and what I am.

How much more should I be prepared to love those whom I find across that bgreat divide most find themselves? Every little deed, service or word must add to that bridge. If I focus on loving my fellow beings across the abyss to God’s love, then I have been able to accomplish the miraculous things Jesus promised.

I work with a woman who not only does the receptionist job full time but cleans the office after hours. I know how wonderful it is for someone to do the littlest thing so I began to do the dishes that accumulate during the day. She approached me one day and said, “I think there is an angel in the office.”

“Well, I love you,” I responded. It isn’t like me to just say stuff like that but it was truly what I felt. I wasn’t concerned in that moment about what church she belonged to or where her relationship with Jesus was. She just needed to know that someone loved her and was wiling to do something concrete about it.

I share this not to pat myself on the back. After looking at the computer for eight hours, I look forward to doing dishes! But I was so grateful to have the opportunity to love someone. Formerly, my selfish life didn’t have experiences like this. Now that they do, I am eager to love anyone across the “great divide” that keeps them from knowing the love of Jesus.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Persons of Heaven

The massive storm whirled around me six times as I stood trapped in the barn. Trees, bent double in agony, at times were almost invisible through the rain. My horses and I weathered it pensively as lightening and thunder was rivaled only by the onslaught of hail on the tin roof. My dogs, tails crimped, shivered at my feet. But oh the power of God! We think that we have so much mastery – but God can put us in our place whenever He chooses.

The next morning arrived as benign and beautiful as a still pond. The trees shook out their hair and I reveled in the long wet grass as I went on my morning walk. I could voice with the psalmist – how lovely is Your dwelling place – O Lord of Hosts! My heart longs and faints for your courts, and my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God!

The delight in this loveliness – storm and peace – is always nicked by a realization that this is not my home. But oh my flesh loves it, glories in it and the outer space of heaven does not draw me from this my familiar delight. I want to live with the Triune God more than anything – but what succor does my flesh await?

I realized that my flesh is so comfortable with parameters. She is comforted by even the hugeness of a hundred year old tree or the mighty swell of the Mississippi river. The infinte of the heavens brings no cheer. How, I asked the Lord, can I go to you? From where will my flesh find its comforting boundaries? I realized that my senses and my skin override the deep longings of my heart, especially on a beautiful spring morning.

Then the quirky smile of God enlightened my mind. Silly, heaven is not a place, it is a Persons. I go not to a place but an embrace. And He who created this world I love cups it within His generous hand. This vastly cheered me and I felt like the Lord said to me, “You are finally growing up, my darling.” I had to laugh at God’s ever ready laughter and generous patience.

I remembered my studies of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. It has taught me to understand that we are unique amongst all of God’s creation. He respects and revels in our created matter and of course has an eternal plan for it. I am like a baby in the womb, comfortable with the boundaries of water, sack and mother’s heart. If I said to a baby – come out into the cold air, bright lights and hunger – they would cling ever so closely to the warmth and safety. Little does the baby know that outside is wonderful, unimaginable growth and laughter. There is a huge family of people to embrace. Yes, there is suffering and sorrow too – but totally redeemed by the Triune God who loves us. Then, the baby is born to an embrace, a warm breast, a tender smile.

This then, is my journey to heaven. I need not fear the unknown place of heaven because it doesn’t exist. I go to the absolute fulfillment of life body and soul. Can you imagine what the Creator of this beautiful world has in store for us?