Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Gospel and the Mules

I don't usually write overtly theological posts on this blog but feel like making an exception this evening. A few days ago for one reason and another I entered into several discussions centering around theology, church history, attitudes of worship and congregational practice. It was a weighty couple of days and the more time I spent time thinking about these matters the more tired and discouraged I felt... which of course is not the purpose of church involvement or of relating to God in general. As I usually do, I started the following day with a morning walk, hoping to shake the mental fatigue that came from the quandaries I was pondering. Often times these walks bring moments of peace and often times I am fortunate to see and hear glimpses of God in the wild things I observe along the way. But this was the first time God has chosen to speak to me through through mules.

As I walked along the road overlooking the meadow I heard a strange sound I couldn't place and didn't recognize. It sounded as if it were coming from the nearby Amish farm, though it didn't seem quite right for a cow or a calf or anything else animal-like, for that matter. Just after hearing the noise I looked down into the meadow and noticed the resident German Shepherd running back and forth which was also puzzling since the dog is usually with the farmer as he goes about his plowing or harvesting. After a minute, the dog headed up into the farmyard and I happened to glance in the other direction, noting movement off in the distant fields. All of a sudden several mules came into view, slowing plodding along in my direction one after another on the narrow path they have worn through the fields over time. In the lead was a white mule with five dark brown mules following. They walked single file for a quarter mile or more at the same measured and deliberate pace, passing near to where I was standing with not so much as a turn of their eyes in my direction. I could tell they took note of my presence because their ears turned backwards as the passed me, as if to hear me better, but they never stopped to look or to wonder what I was doing there. As they approached the stream they stopped briefly, breaking ranks and milling around , almost as if trying to remember what it was they were supposed to be do next. After a moment the white leader took up the pace again, the others fell into line and soon they arrived safely at the barn. I stood there fascinated, realizing that the strange noise I had heard had been intended as a call to the mules far out in the fields and that they had heeded its beckoning.

As I had understood what I had just seen I remembered that the farmer actually had nine mules and wondered where the other three might be and whether they would come too or were ignoring the summons. I looked back in the direction I had seen the first group and sure enough, here came another two. These two were not plodding or nonchalantly taking their time, but were trotting and cantering along the same path, as if they realized they had tarried longer than they should have. They appeared to be younger than the first group, less self-assured and more anxious and the first one was certainly more jittery. I wondered just what was making him so agitated when I looked back once more and finally saw the ninth and last mule making his way more slowly over the fields and paths to join the others. This unsettled mule was clearly not happy at being left behind, nor at the slow pace of his last companion and as soon as the three were all together he took off for the barn, with the others following.

A couple of thoughts came to mind as I watched this unfolding equine drama. One had to do with Jesus words "the sheep hear my voice and follow me". I could not have asked for a clearer nor more powerful picture of that verse than what I had just witnessed. As opposed to those recent heavy discussions having to do with who is qualified to lead in the Church and their role in leading God's people, these mules presented a picture of simply individually heeding and responding to the call that came to them directly, just as in Jesus words about sheep. And as I watched those last three mules I thought of my mother and of others like her. She had known and followed God early in her life but then seemed to lose sight of Him. She spent most of her later years looking for Him in places and through means by which He would not be found. Yet in her final hours before she died, she once again heard and listened to His voice calling and this time she came. Just like those last mules.

I also thought about a line from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. For those who have read it, Ron was feeling badly about having deserted Harry and Hermione and after he was back with them and telling Harry about why and how he returned, he recognized that the present that Dumbledore had left him was given for the purpose of granting his return back to his friends. About Dumbledore Ron says something to the effect of, "He must have known I would...." and Harry jumps in and says, "...would want to come back." I thought of my mom and of all of those whom God calls day after day, over and over. Some hear and come immediately and some take a lifetime.

I had tears in my eyes as I stood looking out over the now-empty meadow, thinking about how powerfully and how simply God conveyed a message that I needed to hear. Through these creatures He spoke a message about trusting Him and responding as I hear His voice. As the call came to the mules directly, His call also comes to my ears. As they knew what to do, so do I. The call to them and to me was simply to come to where and to Whom I belong.

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