To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Part 8: Post 2: Sheep

Almost everybody has left campus now, gone home for the holiday. There's no formal breakfast this week, and no zazen, though yearlings are still responsible for meditating every day but Saturday. Everything's really quiet. No chores, no campus bustle, no holiday madness, no Christmas specials (no TV)...I sing Christmas carols to myself, sometimes.

Most of the people who are left don't celebrate Christmas, so I guess this week is going to be pretty lonely and sad. I'm kind of glad I stayed, though, because Andy had to stay--he has no family to go to. I think Ollie stayed so that Andy wouldn't be alone, though he didn't say so. I would have, too, if I'd thought about it, but I didn't. There are a few others who stayed, too, for one reason or another. I think we're going to have dinner together, or something, and we've gotten small gifts for each other. I got a care package from my parents in the mail today that has some wrapped presents in it, which is embarrassing, since they said we'll exchange gifts at a party after New Years, too. Some of the others got packages, too. We've put our things under the tree to wait for Christmas morning.

I got bored reading today, so I went for a walk and I ended up down by the barns. Joy was down there, looking at the sheep milling around in their pen in the snow. Most of them are pregnant and starting to get round under their wool. We haven't had milk in a while, and I was standing there, thinking about having milk again after the lambs are born, when Joy spoke to me. We'd nodded hello to each other,but I didn't expect her to want to talk, since she and the other masters have gone back into hiding after Yule.

"Funny how there is no singular for 'sheep,'" she began, leaning on the fence rail.

"I though 'sheep' was the singular for sheep?" I asked.

"Maybe. I suppose. One sheep, two sheep...except there really isn't such a thing as just one sheep. If you have just one sheep, all by itself, you don't really have any sheep at all. Sheepness is plural. We're the same way. You can't have just one of us. Maybe that's why humans and sheep get along?"

"I've been alone lots of times," I protested, "and I've been human the whole time."

"Have you really been alone, though?" she asked. "With no idea of yourself as a being who is loved by others? We take our flocks with us, in our hearts." There was a pause. "Comparing people to sheep is hardly considered complimentary, though."

"Well, there's the Christian tradition of a shepherd and his flock..." I'd been thinking about this for a while--I went to church last week and heard a sermon on the concept of Christ as shepherd.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," recited Joy, and she continued on, reciting the entire psalm. I joined her partway through. "It's Jewish, too. It's in the old testament. The Hebrew people were pastoralists."

"Maybe they knew something about sheep we don't? So it wasn't an insult? To be compared to sheep, I mean?"

"Or they knew something about shepherds."

"Like what? What's special about shepherds?" I asked.

"They know more than sheep do."



"What are you doing for Christmas? Anything? Do you celebrate Christmas?"

"I do. My daughter, Serenity, has a new beau. They're quite serious, and he invited her to spend Christmas with him. She and I live together, just the two of us, so she asked if I could come, too."

"Hanging out with your daughter and her boyfriend? Isn't that going to be awkward?"

"Just as long as I don't have to cook!"

"Joy, are you Christian?" I hadn't been able to figure this one out. I knew the others, more or less. Kit's Wiccan, Greg and Karen are Buddhist, and Allen and Charlie are...whatever it is they are, but I know them well enough to have an idea of what that means. Joy is rumored to be "New Age," and I used to think I knew what that was, but now I'm not so sure.

"I wouldn't put a label on it like that," began Joy. "I'm not exclusively Christian. But I believe in Jesus, and I honor His birth."

"I think Kit thinks that story is sexist," I confided. This has been bothering me, that Kit clearly doesn't like the religion I was raised in.

"Only if the storyteller is sexist."

"How do you tell it?"

"That Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of Mother-Father God, just like the rest of us, except more fully realized. He incarnated in order to show the rest of us the way. He did what we can do, what we should trust ourselves enough to do. You're Protestant, right?"

"Methodist. More or less."

"Martin Luther is supposed to have said that baptism is like snow on shit--it doesn't really change
anything. I'm inclined to think sin is more like shit on snow." There was a sheep, right in front of us, providing an example of this substance as she spoke. "The snow may get dirty for a while,but its essential nature is not changed. In time, it melts and then evaporates and returns to the sky, pure. The snow always falls white again, no matter how much it has been through."

The sheep bleated to each other, their breath curling up in billows towards the grey sky.

[Next Post: Friday, December 27th: Christmas]

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