To be nobody but myself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else-means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.
No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.
(a charming little sheep sculpture made by artist Marina Hamilton– County Donegal / Julie Cook/ 2015)
I had fallen in love.
For 15 days, I had fallen in love.
I had traversed the countryside, climbed upward and downward to what seemed to be each hill and dale, skirted the coastline, stood upon pinnacle after pinnacle gazing out over land and sea all the while as I tasted, saw, heard, felt and sensed what it was, what it is, that made/makes this island nation so enticing… as I had simply fallen in love with the sheer wondrous beauty which was lovingly laid out by a masterful Creator before my very eyes…
Yet I had fallen in love with something else as well…as in head over heels in love…for I was taken with and smitten by the endless sea of sheep.
(a soon to be sheared sheep / County Cork / Julie Cook / 2015)
(a sheep sits enjoying the day, somewhere near Slieve Liag, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)
(a freshly sheared sheep, County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)
White faced, long haired, short haired, with horns, without horns, black faced, black sheep, brown sheep, all white sheep, spotted sheep–every kind of sheep imaginable…I had loved each and every one I encountered.
I’m not sure…I’ve just always had a deep affinity for sheep, as I have always fancied myself one day being a bit of a sheepherder.
Most likely it’s because I identify with the spiritual analogy of sheep–of our being like lost sheep with Jesus being the shepherd who goes out in search of that one lost sheep–aka, me…
He didn’t let it go, cutting his losses, but actually left the flock to go searching for the not so bright one who wandered off….
Or maybe its the whole sacrificial lamb analogy…the deeply mournful words spoken by the ancient prophets…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
Whatever the reason the love has always been there…but the recent adventure, which brought me face to face, pretty much cemented the deal of true love.
Never mind that they are dirty…bearing poop stained butts. Never mind they don’t make for the most loyal of pets–if you can call them pets. Sheep are skittish, flighty, loud, and are certainly not the brightest animals on the food chain— hence why they are more or less dinner for many an opportunist predator…yet there is just something about them…
And maybe it’s just seeing them sitting, standing, grazing in a most pastoral idyllic picture perfect, kodak moment, locale of sheer sheep beauty that just seals the deal–peace on earth kind of wonderful.
How does one capture, taking home that whole feeling of the moment… of that love at first sight sort of instantaneous feeling—tasting it, savoring it, holding on to it for later when both you and it are parted and far removed from the very moment of being delightfully caught together in time?
There are a million touristy, kitschy, chotskies of the made in China variety of the cutesy Disneyesque sheep any tourist can snap up at any numerous shop throughout the country. Yet I wanted something real, something tangible, something as close to the real deal and unique as I could find.
As our time together was drawing to a close, I felt myself slipping a bit into the heaviness of melancholy as I was actually mourning–it was hard to still be happy, enjoying the moment as I knew I was mere days away from departing—and for who knows how long—a year, a few years, a lifetime?
Would I be back?
I could not say.
Wandering into a little shop of locally made crafts, in the middle of County Donegal, I immediately spotted my keepsake.
He was a little sculpted ceramic sheep made by a local artist. There were actually two perched on a display pedestal. I looked them both over–picking them up, feeling the unglazed heft of clay in my hands, the weight of something solid and substantial…all the while as I looked into those black glassy eyes. I made my choice and gingerly carried my “skelybegs” (a butchering amalgamation of the gaelic surroundings) to the counter. As he, yes it was a he I had decided, was a piece of art, he did not come cheap, but to me, he was worth the cost and then some as he spoke volumes of my Irish adventure.
Once home, I excitedly and carefully unwrapped my prized possession. I had painstakingly carried him by hand the final leg of the journey, even on the long plane ride home, so having unwrapped him and seeing he was in one piece, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I then lovingly placed my little sheep on the counter in the kitchen right next to one of my favorite Russian Icons of Jesus…as it only seemed fitting to have the sheep by the Shepherd.
I greatly enjoy seeing that sheep each and everyday as I lovingly labor about in the kitchen as it helps me to hold onto a very special place and time.
Yet my little clay sheep is but a mere representational reminder of something that, although I deeply love, is far removed from me and my daily life.
The clay sheep is a token of remembrance, a reminder and a representative…
yet he is a far cry from the authentic real deal sheep.
He merely captures the spirit of an enduring love and intrinsic connection to something deeply important.
Which got me thinking…
Jesus–that icon or image of the mystical shepherd sitting next to my little sheep…
Obviously not the real deal either…yet it is rather a visual representative of someone who was… and in my heart and mind, of someone who still is…
Obviously I understand that, feel that and acknowledge that…but what about others…?
What about the countless numbers of non-belivers or other faith believers or even those Christian believers who do not have that knowledge of that tangible Being…how are they to ever understand the depth of the love offered by the one true Shepherd…certainly not from a mere picture, icon or image…it certainly has to be more….
What of those countless numbers of folks currently around the globe, during these terribly trying times, who are more wary than ever before of what being a follower of Christ truly entails.
And then it hit me….
It’s not a matter of those of us who “get it” or truly understand being simply rote, mindless, empty, lip-syncing followers who merely show up to “worship” on Easter, pull out those dusty nativity scenes at Christmas or slap some sort of fish on the back of our car window or flippantly check off on a form that we are of the Christian persuasion but rather it is imperative in these ever growing darkening days that an authentic representative understands that he or she is to step up to the plate…one who understands what it means to be a true imitator of Christ….picking up and taking up the Cross and in turn understanding that that means dying unto self…as an authentic representative understands, grasps and lives the idea that a true imitator of Christ is called to do just that…imitate how Jesus lived and that living often exacts a tremendous price…a price often paid with ones very life, a price we must all be willing to pay….
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.