Two Shepherd Poems

He Calls by Name and Leads
Easter 4; Psalm 23, John 10:1-10
Jesus used figures of speech:
“I am the good shepherd; I am the gate.”
Part of me resists those images.
Sheep in this land are business;
it was said Australia rode on their backs,
a heavy weight for a small animal.
The care of the flock is practical,
to maximize their productivity; 
the sheep are not led but driven.

I have lived in sheep country:
pasture there is not green for long;
still water dries to treacherous mud,
a trap for thirsty animals.
The flocks in huge paddocks
are many and anonymous,
herded tightly into tiered trucks
to go to market and the abattoir.

So I’d rather not be a sheep,
or Jesus a shepherd or a gate.
He came that we might have life,
and have it abundantly,
but much of this over-used country
has lost its rightful abundance.
Is it because of business and practicality
that the pastures and waterholes dry out?
Shepherding shown in romanticized paintings
is now reserved for Maremma dogs
who live in the paddocks with sheep,
as shepherds did in Jesus’ time.

Is it that commitment and relationship
Jesus pictures in the good shepherd,
as he lives and dies “God with us”?
I have heard him call me by name,
and I recognized his voice and followed.
Through him I go out and in,
finding sustenance and rest;
in him, my soul is refreshed.
I know how he calls me and guides me
onto paths that are right for me.
Day by day he walks ahead of me,
leading me to abundance of life,
and through the valley of the shadow of death.
	Barbara Messner 26/04/2023

A Sheepish Nursery Rhyme
Easter 4; John 10:1-11
If he’s a good shepherd, am I a good sheep?
I like to feel safe when it’s time to sleep.
He’s shepherd and gate, for he gives us the choice:
“Come in or go out, but still hear my voice.”

One time at high noon on a warm sunny day,
my legs became restless to slip away:
I wandered in search of the greenest of hills.
and slippery slopes to roll down for a thrill.

Alas! I was caught in that old briar patch
where thorns and my tangles conspired to snatch.
I called and he heard and reached out for me,
and though the thorns pierced him, he set me free.

He tended the places where I had been hurt,
and pulled out the prickles and cleaned up the dirt,
and carried me back to the safe sleeping ground,
and told all the others: “The missing one’s found!”

He’s shepherd and gate: we come in and go out.
I think I might stay within reach of his shout.
It’s all very well to be free as a bird.
but I am his sheep, and I’m glad he heard.
      Barbara Messner 01/05/2020

6 thoughts on “Two Shepherd Poems

  1. What an extraordinary pairing of poems. The first is powerful and eye-opening (and I had to look up Maremma dog) since I have only lived in cattle country and the second is just the poem I would love to teach to a children’s class or turn in to an illustrated book. In fact I am going to send it to my daughter who will be teaching a children’s class on Sunday.


  2. Thanks for sending the second poem on to your daughter, possibly for the children’s class. I wrote that in 2020 when we doing church on zoom during covid, and it was an attempt to lighten our spirits through whimsicality. However this year I wanted to explore the unintended irony when figures of speech are viewed from a different cultural perspective.


  3. The first poem was eye-opening, or eye turning. I hadn’t considered what industrial sheep herding would look like, and how it would put a new perspective on Jesus’ imagery. The second poem is painfully familiar – or rather, the subject (and experience) of getting myself into trouble and having someone, sometimes Jesus, pull me out. Thank you for both of these.


  4. Thanks Eric. I spent 6 years at Kapunda, a country parish in sheep and wheat country, brown for much of the year, with hills denuded of trees in the time of copper mining. A grazier offered some of her older sheep as a fund-raising flock, and others helped care for them, until they were sold the following year. I felt conflicted that we made survival money out of those animals going to market. However, I was grateful for the generosity and effort of the giver and those who added to their work to keep and sell the flock. As for the sheep, they went to market a year later than they normally would have.
    In the second poem, the slippery slope and the briar patch have certainly figured in my life, along with the gratitude for being helped out and cared about.


  5. Amazing post
    Great post! I appreciate your reflection on the imagery of the Good Shepherd and sheep in our modern world. It’s interesting to think about how our practical and business-oriented society may be affecting our ability to experience the abundance of life that Jesus promises. That being said, I have a question – do you think the Maremma dogs living in paddocks with the sheep could be seen as a modern-day interpretation of the relationship between Jesus and his followers? Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ann, Sorry I missed your comment last week. Thanks for your encouraging response and for following the blog. Yes, I think Maremma dogs living in the paddock with sheep could be a metaphor for Jesus being God with us. I agree that our prosaic and profit oriented society does limit our ability to live abundantly. i think abundant life would involve a much closer and more responsible connection to animals and plants and the created world, and being open to the Spirit. First Nations’ peoples could teach us a lot in those respects.


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