Monday, October 26, 2009

As a sheep to the slaughter

"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth."

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A fine Fall day in late October. The westering sun filters through the maples and walnuts, creating a gold-green glow and casting long shadows out into the field. Spiders' webs gleam between blades of grass in the sun where, haphazard it would seem, industrious arachnids have made a carpet of gossamer to doom late fall hatches of whatever insects enjoy this crisp air.

I rest, waiting. We have gathered, and I have separated the flock, those that shall stay, and those that are destined to give themselves to us, for us. Soon now it will be time to spend what we have gathered.

It's quiet. They watch me, curious. I watch them, remembering little things. An ear scratched here, a shot given there. Breaking ice on the water last Winter during the snow so they could drink. Apples we have shared, and blackberries hand-picked for sheep to nibble on. The cold quiet of the barn during Christmas, when you could imagine a babe and a mother with shepherds visiting and sheep nearby.

The others are also quiet - who knows what goes on in their heads. They stand on the other side of the gates, waiting patiently.

Soon the men come, the last stop of the day. We talk briefly about how it is to be done, and where. There is no ceremony nowadays. No incantations or blessings. But that has been said before - call me a fool, but I prayed for them, and me.

We set about it - slowly drawing the pen gates in - hemming them in. The more experienced one decides the bullet is best not used and not needed in this case - draws his killing knife, and one is down, life leaving him. The less experienced one groans and cries out to God (does he mean it? He should, maybe), and says "only my second day." I reply with grim compassion that is nevertheless hard: "there's nothing easy about this sort of thing."

Our first one, in these few seconds while we say this, all the while moving earnestly to finish the work, gives a last sigh - he is already gone, his life's blood spilt on the ground. His blood given now that we may eat and live another day.

Now the next one is under the knife, and it is done, his blood staining the barn wall and the ground before me. He is gone, mercifully, faster than the first. As the men take the first up to lay him by the truck, I tell the second "God rest you."

They come back and we move the second up to the road. Riders in cars, passing by on their way down the hill, gawk at the spectacle. Maybe they are horrified. Maybe they'll stop for steaks in the high class restaurant down the hill. Maybe both, or neither. I think, perhaps, I am very, very far from them. But I have seen more than the slaughter of sheep.

The men load them in and take them to where the butcher will do her trade.

Meanwhile I look at where they have been - the bloodstained ground where sacrifice is made real. I open up the pen and lead the others out, taking them to the freshest pasture we have, to give them respite from all this. Good green grass, in our little quiet grove of cedars, redwoods, and firs. Then I walk to the base of a walnut tree, pull up a ring from the tree my neighbor and I cut up, crack a beer, and sit watching the shadows, the webs, and the westering sun, and sit quiet in their honor, if sheep may be honored. Theirs was an honorable life.

Away across the field I heart the bleating of the two new kid goats that we helped the neighbor see into this world.

I sigh and get up - supper is being set on and I have other denizens of this farm needing care and feeding before darkness falls.

Away in a tall fir a hawk screams, then takes to wing, circles twice, and flies away down the hill.

God rest you, friends.

3 Comments:

Blogger s-p said...

Indeed the "Circle of Life" is life sustained by death. Fr. Michael Oleksa has a beautiful exposition of the Aleut's "pagan/Orthodox" view of hunting and eating animals that is reflective of your beautiful post. Our culture definitely has a disconnection between what it takes for us to live and what has to die for that to happen.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Sad but beautiful, dear brother, as is all life in this world, truly lived.

Christ be with you all.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Hilarius said...

Gentlemen:

Thank you! My intent was not to be too dramatic about something that our forebears routinely managed, but to capture the impressions about something that we all to often are isolated from nowadays.

I have often thought that few of us really think about what a sight the Temple rites must have been, what with basins of blood poured out, etc., etc.

I was watching a film recently called "Blood of My Brother" about a young Iraqi Shia and his family coping after his elder brother is killed in a 'questionable' incident. At one point the young man goes to market and purchases a live sheep which they slaughter at home in honor of the memory of the slain brother (I think it was on the 40th day). Interestingly they dipped their hands in the blood and then went to the "gate" of the house/compound and put bloody handprints around the threshold. I'm not sure exactly what the Shia view on the significance of that is, but of course it is reminiscent of the ancient Passover rite.

I've also found it interesting that my Arabic-speaking acquaintances always refer to "sacrificing" a sheep or goat when talking about killing in order to eat. They don't use the English word "slaughter" so much as the word "sacrifice."

4:45 PM  

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