On Tuesdays and Thursdays around these parts, Preston and I write letters back and forth. We share the wonder of mystery, grace and our encounters with mercy. We hope to hear from you in the comments and imagine with you about this walking out in faith. Read the letter I'm responding to here.
I prayed for you yesterday, wet hair flying behind me as I part scurried, part meandered, towards work and the long afternoon. I prayed that you would be unselfconscious, just as Madeleine L'Engle says we should we when we are truly in our art. I prayed that your words would flow freely and that you would speak only, and always, the good words that never return void or empty.
I was thinking as I fell asleep last night about this one time that I helped my mother in Sunday School. At our church the 3-6 year olds are together for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a wonderful Montessori-style, contemplative, independent working room with things to touch and smell, work that requires hands as open as our hearts. There is one of the Good Shepherd and the sheep, with real carved wooden sheep in all different sheep colors, and a man carrying a sheep on his shoulders.
This particular week, I had been rubbed raw by difficult conversations and too much thinking. I'd been inside my head, trying to reason my way out of a problem, trying to fix my feelings, talk myself into being happy again.
And a hand, sticky with bits of glue and purple construction paper, found mine. "Let's see the Good Shepherd!" she proclaimed to me, pointing towards the small table. I let her take my hand and lead me to the small table where she could sit on her knees and I scrunched down, sitting cross-legged. She opened the small wooden gate and began to parade the thin wooden sheep in and out. They bounded over each other and frolicked, a few of them tripped as they came leaping out of their sheep pen. I read to her the simple words from John. How the sheep know his voice. How they follow the Good Shepherd. She paraded her sheep in and out, and they talked to each other a bit. The Good Shepherd and his small smile, lamb on his shoulders, finally led them all back inside.
And because the atrium (that's what they call the classroom) is a place where work becomes prayer, and the Holy Spirit inspires answers from the littlest ones, I asked a last question, "Who is the Good Shepherd?"
She looked at me, almost disbelieving I would ask her. "JESUS!" she shouted back. "Jesus is the Good Shepherd!" Oh. My heart, all raw and aching, stopped. What a sight it must have been: a four year old girl walking wooden sheep around a table, and an eighteen year old girl, hand on heart, who can't catch her breath at that answer. Oh. Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
He keeps me tender this way, Preston, through the simple answer I so often avoid. He keeps my heart in the palm of His hand. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who carries the sheep. That day, looking at all those wooden sheep in their parade, I realized that sometimes I'm the one on his shoulders.
He is strong enough to carry us. I forget that. He is strong enough to keep us tender in our raw moments, tender in our sadnesses and joys and singing.
He carries me on His shoulders.
And behold, He makes all things new, and He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.
Love (and prayers for the presence of the Good Shepherd),