“My sheep know my voice,” says Jesus, the good Shepherd, in today’s Gospel reading. And that makes me ponder. Where do I find the voice of the Master?
The more I learn in my faith journey, the more apt I find this metaphor to be. But I initially had to rescue it from my Sunday school days. When I was a child the image of the kind, sympathetic Lord who would keep me from all harm was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the incarnate God does indeed accompany us through our days. But it was a curse because Christ doesn’t keep awful things from happening. Believing that he does leads the young mind to reason that he must not want to in her case. And why might that be?
Out of a more mature spirituality, I see that the image of the good Shepherd speaks not so much to what God will do for us as it does to the way the Soul is made. Scientific materialism has us believing that we are unique and autonomous individuals who can make decisions about what we understand to be the truth. We have the notion that we somehow stand apart from God and can invite God into a psychological system that is functioning quite well on its own.
In reality we are God-bearers. God lives in the very fiber of our beings and looks back at us from the quiet of our hearts. We can’t get away from God. The peculiar isolation of the mind that doesn’t know this is an aberration, an illness. We are meant to relate to God as to our own nature, a completion and wholeness, a destiny and yet an invitation to praise and thankfulness, to the expression of prayer.
So where do I find the voice of the good Shepherd? It’s in my very bones. I recognize the voice because it feels like the essence of me, a “me” not encompassed by the ego mind but as large as the Soul.
I recognize Christ rather than being convinced of him. I belong in his fold because, like the sheep who do know that one particular voice of the shepherd who has been in close relationship with them, I find myself moving toward the sound of him before my mind has caught up. And what I mean by the “sound of him” is those things in the world that resonate with Christ-ness.
I’ve heard a lot of people remark on the retreat aspect of sheltering at home during the pandemic. It’s a good chance to allow ourselves time for quiet and creativity. I’ll bet that if you let yourself take that sort of time and then just drift toward what is most meaningful to you right now you’ll find in it the thread of Christ. It will be that same thread that has kept you in the church — or in prayer — or in compassionate action in the world all these years.
“I am the good Shepherd,” says Jesus. “My sheep know me.” Yes, we do. We just do — not with our minds but with our hearts, with the part of us in touch with the entirety of us. It’s in our cells.
Image: Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome; Second half of 3rd century