PILGRIM NOTES: The Image of a Shepherd / 18.11.12

“he had no beauty or majesty that we should be attracted to him…” -Isaiah 53:2

Biking through northern Greece we don’t see many people–mostly shepherds and their flocks. Actually, we keep a wary eye out for sheep dogs, as they can be a bit aggressive to bikers on the road. Often the shepherd is there, however, and is able to call the dogs back if necessary. It’s the shepherd that strikes me.

It’s the dissonance of the image of Shepherd in my mind with what I see. In my subconscious, a shepherd is a young, ruddy youth in white robes, sitting casually on a rock with his shepherd’s staff nearby, gazing out over green pastures. Or a spotless Jesus with his usual Jesus robes cradling a white-as-Christmas lamb that sleeps in his arms. (The Sunday School rooms of my past had some posters occasionally…).

In contrast, the image that is with me from three days ago is an old man in dark and dirty clothes walking slowly among a flock of goats, blowing smoke from his cigarette. He had a small willow switch and his complexion was dark and weathered. What strikes me most I think is that this shepherd looked old and tired–slowly determined and dirty. He looked poor and old and homeless. And there’s the smell too, the smell of goats. When we’re coming around a mountain road on our tandem I can often be on the alert for the presence of sheep dogs by the wafting goaty smell — strong and warm and slightly acrid with a hint of manure. You can’t spend all day with sheep or goats and not smell sheepy or goaty. It’s a smell I would personally avoid. I prefer the smell of Herbal Essences and freshly laundered clothing.

The point is all these things this shepherd was — old, tired, dirty, poor, smelly, alone — these are all offensive things. If not directly offensive, than subconsciously offensive, something we might pity or seek to ameliorate if one of our family members was so afflicted. And then I snuggle down in my sleeping bag in our tent on some open patch of sheep grass next to an icy cold stream in which we hurriedly bathed, and I begin to pray:
“The Lord is my shepherd…
he makes me lie down in green pastures
he leads me beside the quiet waters…”

O Lord, give us a fresh vision of yourself — we want to be like you today.

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One Comment

  1. Kristen L. said on November 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    thank you for this, Andrew.

    I preached on a Psalm of Ascent (the pilgrim songs) this last Sunday.

    Praying that you have songs and prayers to likewise sing along the way.

    …and the pictures? Incredible; thank Kallie for them.

    strength and grace to you,

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