Here is the meditation I wrote that was published in the Advent Christmas resource Hands of Light. I was imaging what it was like to sit on a hill and watch the story of Joseph and Mary unfold.
I like this place here on the hill.
This crevice in the rock carved out by thee and me has been my shelter from heat and rain all the days of my life.
From here I can see all my sheep.
My people in the village try to beg me to come down in winter,
but more than a night by the fire and I am restless for my place in the rock.
You gave it to me so that I may watch over them.
So I may provide meat for worship and feast days,
so I may witness dramas and miracles.
It is not lonely up here on the hillside,
both people and sheep I know and address by name.
But when it comes to conversation, it is the sheep that make more sense to me.
For two cycles of the moon there has been trickery swirling over the sleeping folk below. Yahweh’s work it is sure, strange and wondrous dabblings true - the outcome uncertain.
What is known to us all, is that soft moments
between the house of Joachim and the house of Joseph
have become sharp and distant.
My father always told me
“When women pass each other without pause for conversation,
turn and run for the hills for the very earth itself may split open and swallow you up!”
Three times this night I have watched Joseph-the-tree, gentle up to the door of his betrothed only to walk away without seeking entrance, shoulders bowed.
On such nights the sounds of a prayer so soft, so full of aching, that only the angels themselves could decipher the words is whispered against the rock.
Few may know the reason for such pain,
but not one person in the neighborhood sleeps undisturbed,
as prayers rich with questions too raw to be spoken loudly,
make their way through the night.
Yes there is trouble in the houses of Joachim and Joseph,
and that means trouble for us all.
In light of this it takes a long time before Joseph-the-tree makes his way up the track to my place in the rock. A man without stealth or guile, he stumbles and grunts, announcing his presence before he appears at my fire.
I sooth my now restless sheep “It is just Joseph-the-tree disturbing your sleep. Rest all will be well with the world”.
There is anger in his eyes at my words,
yet split open it gives way to the sorrow I have witnessed bend this upright man.
Such conversations as with sheep are demeaned by speaking,
and so we sit and watch over the restlessness of those below.
When such emotions do form into speech, they sit in his mouth for a long time.
“But I still love her”
It is said.
So that is what Yahweh has been up to!
‘But I still love her’
In the defeat is shown the way forward, there is still love.
Who in rightness with God, can not find in his heart, forgiveness for one so blessed.
As we sit I recall to Joseph how it was when I was first called up here to care for the flock.
It was not the life I had planned, yet “the needs of all were important” said my grandfather “sacrifices had to be made”.
I spoke of how I had rebelled and in anger struck out at these dumb creatures. This was a story new to Joseph; to him I had never been anything but old and bent.
“There was one sheep in particular that goaded me. A ewe stubborn and wild. She was one of my uncle’s prized animals. Prized or not, all I saw was a stubborn sheep that ran me all over these hills for no better reason than she thought I needed the exercise. When a storm would come she would force me out into the rain to search for her, when wild beasties came close she would run towards them until I was sure she wanted nothing more than to see me dead!”. That raised a smile.
“As my feet got harder and my legs stronger I would look down at you all below less and less with envy. Here I saw things in a new way. I could see who spoke to whom, or who didn’t … I saw the young women of the village laugh together as I never could see when I was amongst it all ... I saw the spirit weave in and out of our lives … and I saw how the villages would wave up to me- there faces reassured that they and the flock were cared for and watched over.”
“The sheep were, well, still sheep, yet more and more I realised how we would come to depend on each other. They warned me, as much as I protected them. Not just my life revolved around their well being, but all our lives.”
“Then one night, on a night very similar to this I returned from the village to discover that that pesky ewe had once more gone missing. It had taken me longer to return than usual as the path I normally took had slipped away. Already I knew that this would be where I would find her. Sure enough as I got closer I saw her she trotted faster and faster in the opposite direction.
I knew the path that she was heading toward was no more, if I chased after her she would fall to her death. Yet if I did nothing it still may happen. What was I to do? After all this sheep had caused me much pain since I had come to care for her”.
Joseph poked at the fire as I paused for effect.
“But you know I could not let her die, in her own way she had become a part of my day... if she died, I may have an easier life, but the whole flock would be diminished”.
“Well what could you do? You’ve said you couldn’t chase after her!”
“Nothing so I fell to my knees and I called to her- angrily at first and then gently...”
“Pesky sheep” I said
“Stop! Come to me,
if you go down there you will die and there are those who will miss you…
if you run that way you will fall down the hill and uncle will be mad…
and I will become lazy…
we need you pesky sheep…
your flock needs you…
I need you!”
“And she came back?”
“No not at first,
she made me wait so long I thought she had died.
And I am not afraid to say that I sat in that sheep track and I sobbed like a babe…
I sobbed for what I had hoped for that was not to be …
for the sense of responsibility that caring for these blasted sheep placed upon me…
and for the fear that sat inside me daily that I could not carry it...
most of all I sobbed for a stubborn sheep
that had yet to tell me her name.”
“But she came back …tell me she didn’t die!”
“Yes she came back and I held her tightly and I cried into her fleece”
“And she loved you and let you lead her back?”
“No she ate my breakfast and walked back with me following behind.
Trust my friend takes time to develop”.
The fire crackled as Joseph-the-tree stood and looked out in the night.
“Go to she who is most blessed tree man, you have a journey before you I think”.
All night I stayed awake watching the village as it fell into a peaceful sleep.
Just before dawn Joseph and Mary, the daughter of Joachim headed out with a donkey towards Bethlehem. From my crevice in the rock I saw them pause and wave. I waved back. On this morning all was well with the world.