Prayer and Agoniste

It derived from the blown and cratered
gristle of Sinai, oral lore codified
by relentless centuries of infant skin
scraps, torn hair, and bloody stones
yet, now, once, we upon a

time saw a singular sheep, fresh
sheared, in-penned, dulled by
childish pats, ever beshepherded.
once seen, but not since.
and, told we are sheep for 

shepherds, sinly conscience
obstinate, abstinent, stolen from
Eden, so its use must be wrong, right
from preying judas goats.

O my God, 
to be a farmer like Cain, the sacrifice
accepted as rot rather than holocaust,
a season, then renewal, time more your style.
O my God,

I know you through my salt crusted 
forehead and dirty fingers, I know you
through scum and dung and
desperation. O my God, I
feel you in gripped fists and blazing eyes.

A thousand years of humble homilies
a desert kindred upthrust and by
now - forgotten the forked tongue.
why should we be sheep when you made
us men?

we used to speak with the jawbones of
the wild ass, long-haired
nomads, singing in 
roughspun wool. 

I’m basi­cal­ly using my rusty anthro­po­log­i­cal edu­ca­tion and sundry oth­er learn­ing to express exas­per­a­tion regard­ing the Chris­t­ian empha­sis that we are sheep and God shep­herds us. That’s an easy metaphor used by a nomadic tribe of herders to explain their the­ol­o­gy in terms they could under­stand. Since sheep are con­sid­ered remark­ably dumb and meek, it’s also a use­ful way for, say, a priest­ly hier­ar­chy to enforce con­trol and adher­ence for a few thou­sand years.

We can be God’s and be men as well. He’s not the God of sheep.

3 Replies

  • Good morn­ing Adam,

    I wrote this at a Mis­drashim work­shop a dozen years ago.

    In The Field.”

    by Jeff Hess

    Hev­el climbed the warm slop­ing soil of Kayin’s newest field, uncon­scious­ly tram­pling the tiny green leaves as he drew near to his broth­er. “Broth­er, about yes­ter­day. With God,” he start­ed.

    Go away, lit­tle broth­er. I have work to do,” Kayin said, dig­ging his sharp­ened and fire-hard­ened plant­i­ng stick in the ground to make a hole for anoth­er of his fig tree seedlings.

    Hev­el breathed slow­ly. “I want­ed you to know what hap­pened, Kayin. Why God did…”

    Kayin looked up. “God does what God does, Hev­el. Haven’t you lis­tened to father?”

    Yes, Kayin. But I also lis­ten to moth­er.”

    Kayin looked beyond his broth­er and took in the path of crushed life cross­ing the field. “Look what you’ve done, you idiot. Look at the trees you destroyed,” he said, wav­ing his stick at Hev­el. “I nur­ture each one through the dry sea­son and you don’t even stop to think where you put your big flat feet when you stomp across my field.”

    You didn’t get the mes­sage, Kayin. God doesn’t’ give a dung beetle’s trea­sure for your shriv­eled plants. We’re cre­at­ed in God’s image. He doesn’t care for girly men. God want men who are real men.”

    Kayin low­ered his stick and leaned heav­i­ly on it. “Is that what you think, lit­tle broth­er? That killing makes you a man?”
    “It’s not what I think, Kayin,” Hev­el said, drop­ping his ges­tur­ing hands to his side. “It’s what God thinks. You saw who pleased God yes­ter­day. What part of “los­er” don’t you under­stand?

    I should be like you then, lit­tle broth­er,” Kayin said, hard­en­ing his grip on his stick, “and leave the fields to the women?”
    “Now you’re talk­ing, Kayin. Come with me and learn what it means to be pleas­ing to God. You…” Hev­el stepped back.

    What are you doing, Kayin?”

    Kayin fol­lowed, step for step, his plant­i­ng stick point­ed at Hevel’s chest. “Any fick­le puff of smoke can slaugh­ter a dumb sheep, Hev­el. Where’s the pow­er in that? But a man, Hev­el, now there’s a chal­lenge. Only a man, or a God, can kill anoth­er man. How will that please God?”

    Kayin, wait, you have it wrong,” he said, reach­ing. “That’s not killing, that’s mur­der!”

    Yes. And your point is, lit­tle broth­er?”

    It’s not the same.”

    Of course it isn’t, Hev­el. Killing is a pale shad­ow of mur­der.” Kayin thrust his stick into Hevel’s chest and pushed hard and top­pled him and leaned into his stick until it came out his lit­tle brother’s back and pinned him to the ground and his stick wicked the blood from Hevel’s shak­ing body into the thirsty soil.

    After Hev­el ceased to move, Kayin piled stone upon stone and branch upon branch and cut out the fat-parts and laid them on the branch­es. Kayin sent a prayer and made a fire and wait­ed for the pleas­ing odor to bring God.

  • Thanks for shar­ing, Jeff! I think that angle is com­ple­men­tary to where I was going. I feel I might be focus­ing more on how the mytholo­gies of a herd­ing cul­ture don’t apply to all cul­tures across the board, even though they’ve been shoe­horned in for a few thou­sand years. Anthro­po­mor­phiz­ing a god is always going to be dan­ger­ous.

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