"I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." ~St. Augustine

Friday, June 11, 2010

Be a bird... not a sheep

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While studying Ancient Greece this school year, I have read many of Aesop's Fables to my children. Aesop wrote most of his stories about animals and all of them end with a moral--- quite profound, actually. One of the games I played with my kids while reading was a guessing game. I would ask them, "Okay, guess, what was the moral of this story?" At first they took the game very seriously and attempted to guess the moral. As time went on, though, they became a bit lazy in their guessing and it became a joke to simplify the "guess" to something like... "be a swan and not a raven" or "be an ant and not a frog" or "be an owl and not a grasshopper". They, of course, would laugh heartily at their hilarious humor! Not exactly helpful in the learning of profound morals... but it did make me laugh a time or two.

This morning while on my prayer walk, I had the distinct thought... "be a bird and not sheep". The thought made me chuckle. Walking past the sheep regularly now, I am always amazed at the constant bleating that comes from these fields. Sheep seem to be very noisy animals. They are constantly making noise. It is quite remarkable. I wouldn't have known that having never lived among or around sheep before. In my limited experience I would say that sheep and lambs are very vocal.

But, today, I noticed something different, something I had never really observed before. First off, the bleating sound carries really far. I could hear it from one field to the next and onto the next adjoining field, as well. It was loud and seemed to never stop... no matter how far I got from the field. The sound of sheep was inescapable.

Secondly, I noticed that the sounds they were making sounded very "human" like. I could almost put a word, or a sound-word, with each bleat and moan. Each one, very unique, sounded like a human cry of some sort. This one sounded like a "Why?!" and that one sounded like a "Woa (is me)". This one sounded like a "Oh!!" and that one sounded like a "Ah" or "Uh".

One would sound-off right after the other in a harmony of cries. And, they all were quite pitiful sounds really. Whimpering, whining, worrying cries bleat from these sheep... and this sad sound carried far from one field into the next... and onward.

As I listened to this symphony of sad-sheep-sound, I asked the Lord, "Is this what we sound like to you, Father?" After asking the question, my attention was quickly turned to another constant sound around our fields... bird song. Birds, too, are always vocalizing. The birds here seem to be constantly chatting and singing. In fact, I have some new baby sparrows living in my rafters... which I hear most mornings around sunrise (4:30 AM!). They chatter and sing at the rising of the sun. It is quite loud and wakes me most mornings. This sound, too, is inescapable! But, unlike the sheep, their sounds are much sweeter in tone. They seem to be saying nice things, gentle things, and even worshipful things. A bird song sounds like music... beautiful music. Where the bleating of the sheep sounds sad and carries a tone of discord, the bird's song is harmonious and uplifting.

As I walked the fields bombarded by this variety of sounds, I continued to ask the Lord for His insight. I began to think of Biblical verses describing sheep. Sheep are described as "lost and wandering" (Zech 10, Matt. 10), "harassed and helpless" (Matt. 9)... And, then I thought of Jesus' teaching to, "consider the ravens". These ravens, these sparrows, don't worry or sow. They just are fed by God. Is this why they sound happier in their song? Do the ravens, the sparrows, and the black birds sing a song of thankfulness and live a life trusting God's provision? Is this why they sound so beautiful?

Do I sound like the sheep? Does my voice, vocally or in my heart, sound whining, complaining, desperate and pitiful? Or do my cries, my life-song, my heart-voice sound like the birds? Are all my comings and goings... my toil, my roaming, my thoughts... are they all covered in the "Woa (is me)" sound of bleating or are they covered in the "hallelujah" sound coming from a bird?

Certainly, in a simple "Aesop's" world, I can paint this picture in my mind and I can suggest that the moral of the story would be... to be a bird not a sheep!

But, as I think through the complexities of our real world and stretch the analogy farther, I must say that when looking up the word "sheep" in the Bible... I found many more verses that related to God's deep love for sheep--- His sheep, than those that point to the stupidness, the harriedness and pitifulness of sheep. I found verses that remind me of God's response to the Israelites, when He heard their cries in Exodus 3 "The Lord said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering." Scripture talks about God's people crying ot to Him. And over and over the Word speaks of Him hearing them in love. Time and time again God refers to His people, His sheep, as in need of a shepherd.

His knowledge of our sheep-ness (bleating and all) is always cloaked in His love, His mercy and His deep compassion. Over and over again in Scripture, God HEARS. He hears the cries of His people.

So, my heart desires to live as a bird... unworried, eating from His hand, and living life with a thankful voice and a worshipful heart! But, I know my tendency to live as a sheep... harassed, and complaining... bleating my way through the grass and whining my way to the watering hole. And, this is why I need a good Shepherd!! And, it is good to know He knows this, He knows me... and still loves me.
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