I’ll admit to professional bias, but the part of the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke that most appeals to me is when the angels appear to the shepherds. I realize that much of this story has to do with the symbolism of God choosing to announce the birth of Christ to the lowest of the lowly; that’s fine – as a shepherd, I know what lowly days are like. Even so, to me this part of the story suggests something more profound. To me, this story suggests that perhaps stockmen – and women – are more in tune with what’s happening around them. To me, this story suggests that shepherds (and by extension, stock-people) were perhaps the only people who would have noticed the angels in the first place!
The best stock-people I’ve known – and by this, I mean shepherds, cowboys and goatherds (of both genders) – have some things in common. I’ve found them to be quiet and constantly paying attention to the world around them. And they spend much of their time (if not most of it) out of doors. Stockmanship involves quiet observation – of the environment, of the animals, and of the situation. I have found that when I’m quiet and aware, I notice some amazing things – things that I might have missed if I were not paying attention.
Secondly, by definition, a stockman must spend time with stock. For grazing animals, this means spending time outdoors away from “civilization.” Even those of us who graze animals close to town work mostly away from civilization – and our work is far more physical than most “civilized” jobs.
This combination – working consciously, quietly, out of doors, and physically – means that we are privileged to see and experience some amazing things. We get to see the geese and sandhill cranes migrating, we get to hear a creek start to run after a drenching rain, we get to feel the warmth of the sun on the first true spring day, we get to taste the first ripe blackberries of summer, and we get to smell leaves turning into topsoil in the fall. For me, spending time outside, working with animals, and being quiet enough to be “in” my environment means that I get to observe some wondrous events.
All of which brings me back to the story of the shepherds. Regardless of what you believe, I hope that the New Year brings you the opportunity to be outdoors, quiet and conscious of your surroundings. May you hear angels sing in the coming twelve months!