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 thoughts on “Prayer and Agoniste

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Speak your piece