We have sheep. Six of them. Three ewes, two little ewe lambs, and one ram (which we affectionately call Rambo).
It is true what they say about sheep They are stupid. They will follow the sound of your voice, especially if they think you have food. They are, in fact, better behaved than goats. They will wander off – they need boundaries for their safety. And they need a shepherd to take care of them. The Gospel reading on the Good Shepherd is a beautiful story of how much God loves us, taking care of us because we really need to be taken care of. Having sheep of our own, I have come to appreciate this Gospel more and more. While I do see my own need for Christ in the way our sheep need us, I am becoming more and more aware of how foundational that Good Shepherding is.
Next week, we will have our annual sheep shearing on the farm. It is an amazing thing to watch a skilled sheep-shearer in action. Our shearer says, “You need to shear a thousand sheep to know how to shear a sheep,” and he has sheared thousands. It takes him less than five minutes to shear one animal. Then my work begins. You see, I spin their wool into yarn. It is this process of making yarn that has deepened my appreciation for My Shepherd.
Once the sheep is sheared, the fleece needs to be washed, picked, carded (or combed), made into rovings, drafted, spun, plied, skeined, soaked, and hung to dry. Each step is
dependent on the previous step being done well. The shearing needs to be done in a single swipe in order to maintain the longest length of each fiber. If this is done poorly, then the fibers will be too short to spin, and the fleece is useless. When the fleece is washed, it needs to be torn into small sections before it is put in the soapy water. If this is done poorly, the fleece will get all matted together, and it will be useless. The picking process is where the fibers of the fleece are gently pulled apart from each other to prepare it for carding, which is the process of combing the fibers so they are all going in the same direction. If the picking is done poorly, the fibers will cling to each other in the carding process and not comb well. If the carding is done poorly, the rovings will not draft well, which makes spinning the wool very difficult, often resulting in lumpy yarn, which makes for messy hats and mittens.
As I work my way through this process, I am keenly aware that what I do in the moment will have consequences for the next stage. But I am even more aware of how dependent each step is on the previous one, going back to the shearing, and further back to the tending of the flock. The quality of the fleece is dependent on how well the sheep had been cared for in the field. What kind of pasture did they have to eat? Was their hay of good nutritional value? Were they protected from predators? Was the field relatively clean (do you know how hard it is to get a sticker bush off a sheep’s back!)? The care of the shepherd for the sheep is foundational to the flourishing of the fleece.
And the care of My Shepherd for me is foundational to my flourishing as a human being. The journey of my spiritual life has been a process of shearing and washing and picking and carding – a process of cleaning up and straightening out my life so that my soul can proclaim the greatness of the Lord! In the midst of the “picking” of life, we can get caught up in what is in front of us, and forget the foundation of love we have been given to accomplish each task. The Good Shepherd has given us all the love we need to complete the task at hand, and shows us what the final outcome should look like, which is nothing less than the image and likeness of unconditional Love itself.
I want to become a beautiful skein of yarn that the Lord can use to make others warm in His Love!
Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs at Saint Joseph’s College Online. She lives on the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in northeastern Pennsylvania.