Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ (1 Samuel 16.11)
‘You get a lot of time to think, doing this job. They don’t like you going to sleep, but they can’t stop you thinking. All my family have been shepherds, so it was natural that I’d become one too – a shepherd. You begin just following the other men, seeing how they do it, learning to use a sling shot if a wild animal approaches and threatens the sheep. You have to learn how to move the sheep and the goats on, to find new pasture. You have to learn how to get them into a pen, into a fold. You have to know when they’re not well and you have to be able to count so that you know if one has gone astray. And when you’re learning, sometimes you’ll be sent off, if they can spare you, to find the sheep that’s lost and bring it back. But apart from that, you just sit there – and think.
The other thing you can do, thinking about it, is learn how to play an instrument. Some of us have learnt how to play the pipe and if you’ll excuse me if I say this, I’m not bad at it.
The thing we don’t do often is go into town. You see, down there, to be perfectly honest, we’re not very popular. We have a bit of a reputation for being rough and coarse and smelly, for liking a fight and for swearing. Obviously I’m being polite talking to you but normally when I’m talking to the others – well, let’s say I wouldn’t talk like that in front of my mother!
You’re wondering what the prospects are? Well, I suppose I could be in charge of a gang of shepherds, working for some wealthy owner, but apart from that, not a lot. Except that what I do keep at the back of my mind is that King David started off doing what I’m doing. He came from these parts, probably walked these same hills with the sheep he looked after. It was the harp with him, not the pipes, and he was a great thinker, a great poet, making up those songs
‘The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.’
I can imagine him out here, writing that down. So you see, we’re not quite what those townies think of us. We can be full of surprises, though I admit we are a bit smelly and no one in their right mind would invite us into their home before we’ve had a good wash!
The nights seem so long at this time of the year. I often sit on my own, not too far from the fire, but where I can get a bit of space and a bit of silence. And over the last few nights I’ve been watching the stars. You get to know them, the constellations, quite well when you’re out here as often as I am – Orion, the Pleiades. But over the last few nights there’s been something different, a star I hadn’t seen before. I’m used to comets, shooting stars that sweep across the sky. But this one is different, it seems to be getting nearer but very steadily and it seems to be heading to where we are. The others say I think too much, that’s it’s gone to my head, that I should have another drink and forget it. But I’m intrigued.
So I’m looking forward to tonight when the sun sets and the stars appear to see what the sky will hold. But that’s for later. Now I need to see where those sheep have got to.’
may I watch for the signs of your coming,
may I be alert to you around me,
may I be ready to welcome you into my life.