By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published June 22, 2018
The train puttered along the track, revealing through its huge windows emerald meadows decorated with white dots.
My husband and I were traveling from a village in the Cotswolds—where we’d attended a Tolkien-themed art show that included his work—back to London, where we’d spend the night with friends, then fly home the next day.
As I realized the dots were lambs grazing in the pasture, I became mesmerized by the thought of how sweet and innocent they seemed.
A few moments later, I turned to my husband and announced, “That does it—I’m never eating lamb again. They’re just too cute!”
When we arrived in London, our friends met us at the station, and I eagerly recounted the story about the lambs, including my decision to refrain from eating their flesh.
They glanced at each other a bit uncomfortably, and one said, “Well, we’re serving shepherd’s pie for supper.”
One of my favorite images when I pray is the Good Shepherd, nestling a lamb in his arms.
In a mysterious way, Jesus is simultaneously the Good Shepherd, who protects the lambs from the wolf’s attempts to destroy them—and also God’s innocent lamb, who became the paschal sacrifice.
How can Jesus be both shepherd and lamb? It doesn’t make rational sense but must be embraced with faith, just as God becoming human, and bread and wine turning into Christ’s body and blood at the supper of the Lamb.
In my life, the Good Shepherd has shown me considerable mercy, given that I was a rambunctious lamb who strayed far from the flock in my 20s, nearly falling off various cliffs leading to destruction.
He came searching for me and brought me home, and my return to Catholicism was an amazing experience, marked by strange coincidences and mystical encounters with the Lord.
As the years went on, though, complacency set in, and I forgot how dangerous my life had been without Jesus at my side.
With my husband’s death, my comfortable world came toppling down, and suddenly it seemed that no one would protect me from the wolf at my door.
But nearly three years later, I see that God has accompanied me, quietly and mercifully, through the green hills of my marriage—and now the dark valley of widowhood.
In a lovely poem, “The Lamb,” William Blake writes, “Little lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?”
The poem has the answer: “He is called by thy name, for He calls himself a Lamb. He is meek, and he is mild. He became a little child.”
Jesus came into the world to shake things up and said the last were first, the poor were rich and the dead could live again.
In Isaiah, there’s a description of the shake-up: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”
As for that day long ago in England, yes, I humbled myself that evening and ate a helping of shepherd’s pie, praising the cook to the hilt and trying not to think of the white dots in the pasture.
That was the last time I ate lamb in the literal sense, but at Mass when the priest holds up the host and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world, “ I ready myself to welcome the mystical Lamb into my heart.
The Lamb, who is also the Shepherd, is always near us, as we travel through life’s meadows, sometimes bright and beautiful, sometimes dark and dreadful—leading us ultimately to the emerald hills of heaven.
Artwork by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.