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.

Comments and conversations on this post

  1. RT @AdamInCLE: Wrote this: Prayer and Agoniste – http://t.co/eDCChCRf #poetry

  2. 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.

  3. 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.