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Behold the Lamb

On my (mostly) daily walks in the hills and dales of this green country, I usually stop and chat with the sheep, which are everywhere. They have three primary responses to my attempt to strike up conversation. A few are aloof. They go on eating as though I am no more than a crow squawking at the roadside. A few stand stalk still and stare at me, puzzled, perturbed, indignant, bleating complaint. I don't speak sheep, but their message transcends the language barrier: Go away. Now. Don't make me bite you. And most bolt straight away, running as fast as their twiggy legs can carry them, bleating panic.

It's worrisome. It's like I'm the stranger that Jesus warns about, whose voice the sheep don't recognize and so flee from (John 10:4-5). That's only a slight improvement on the hireling whom Jesus also warns about, who, first sign of trouble, flees the sheep (John 10:11-13). These sheep won't let me get near enough to even test that scenario.

Except yesterday. Yesterday, we three – Cheryl, Nicola and I – took a new trail, down a wooded path atop a berm between two sheep fields. It terminates at a slow bend of the Teifi river. So at river's edge we clambered down the berm and came up at the end of one of the fields. A dozen or so ewes grazed. Alongside them, huddling close, were flocks of lambs, their wool pilled in short tufts, their legs still slightly wobbly.

And then one did a most wonderful thing: he ran toward us, bleating welcome, and licked my hand. I wouldn't have be more honored than if royalty had spoken to me.

Actually, it was better than that: God spoke to me. That lamb, he said, has not yet learned one life's earliest lessons. It's a lesson every parent, human or ovine or bovine or canine, or whatever, passes on to its offspring: be wary.

Trust no one.

Believe the worst.

It's a needful lesson in a fallen world. Lambs and babies and calves and puppies – all are vulnerable, and naivete can be lethal.

But that lamb was an icon of trust. His pure instinct, unladen with any sheeplore about wolves and poachers, was to welcome us.

Be trusting.

Believe the best

Then he noticed no one else joined his pageant of greeting. He saw his mother's stern worried look, bleating anxiety. And he got the message. He learned the lesson. He beat a retreat.

I've learned the lesson, over and over, to the point I apply it beyond what is needed: be wary.

Trust no one.

Believe the worst.

I know the tragedy, as well as the necessity, of the lesson. Welcoming is sometimes folly. Trust is sometimes disastrous. Believing the best is sometimes ruinous.

But the kiss of that lamb tingled for a long time on my fingers, bearing its own lesson: would it really hurt you, would it hurt anyone, to be a little more lamb-like?

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