The Shepherd’s Task

A drenching gray frames spring green even in morning’s early breaths. Somehow, the layers of being converge into meaning in the restless round of seasons. So it is now. All about us are the brilliance of new beginnings tucked next to the decay of what is spent, and slowly the world takes it all in even as it evolves past now into tomorrow. Scattered like carelessly planted tulip bulbs, what is new must find its place even as it shrugs towards becoming past. Subtle observations emerge from all this: that patience is a treasure, suffering is worth enduring and pathways await. Good Shepherd Sunday has all these nuances.

“Shepherd” has as many connotations as “spring rain”. Meaningful to some and largely disconnected from others, there is a sense of responsibility, of honor, embedded in the term “shepherd”. And yet, there are simple foundational truths behind all that. The Shepherd establishes a connection, gives meaning to the task of guarding these sheep, and embraces it as a tiny part of a much larger collective whole. There is no grandiosity in the job itself yet there are layers of trust involved in pursuing it. Courage and confidence, honesty and truth are critical elements in the role and yet we categorize it as something far simpler than all that, diminish it to something reserved for simpletons or loners. Consider the connections: owners, shepherds, sheep, clients, buyers, breeders….Each needs the other to live the role.

This year, on Good Shepherd Sunday, with the visible wounds of the world and its peoples so tangible, it is especially meaningful. The vivid imagery of Psalm 23 lyrically allures to the consideration of the possibility that there is someone with us in the most peaceful and life-giving as well as the darkest and most difficult moments of life. Poetically, it engages in the ebb and flow of a human life’s seasons and promises the more that every soul seeks. “The Lord is my Shepherd. There is nothing I shall want” intimates more than contentment and trust. There is confidence in relationship, courage to face the next steps, a Buddhist-like simplicity to sustain attentiveness and focus. The words confide an intimacy based on the certainty of connection without condition.

In the vast forces of cultural change and shifting norms, the transformation of identity and redefinitions of personhood and being, there is a temptation to reject the wisdom of centuries past, to scoff at the concepts of divinity or gods, to retreat from the existence of mystery in human life. It is understandable and maybe the journey towards deeper understandings of who we are and why we are here and what we actually do to and with and for one another. And maybe it is also the time to find new footing in this stage, to rearrange what was into what it can be until it is time for someone else to take over. That sort of sounds like the task of a Shepherd to me: patient, enduring, moving.

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