The mind often wanders, like sheep. Early years I tried to raze and focus, but to no avail. Now I let it run. That night I thought about new wine, so much so it edged my teeth. And then soft places, like the line of a woman’s neck. The flock? For the most part they were quiet. I heard my own breathing. Even the breeze.
Then suddenly the excited churr of a winter wren. The song became a single blur running the hill between lamb and rock, back and forth, wild. My only thought was predator. My fingers gripped the staff as I stepped into its path. Before I could call out it swallowed me. I was prey, inside the blur, close, so close I fought for breath.
The blur took shape, grew wings. Huge, incessant beating that became words: Don’t be afraid. I heard with my entire body, the voice piercingly familiar, echoing even in my knees. Then another voice, I guess a shepherd’s wits: Breathe. And I did. The voice kept winging don’t be afraid and with each flap I inhaled, the message air, breath, life. I began to think I would not die.
I was suddenly spit out, released to not believe my eyes. The face before me was the face of hope, the handful of men I’ve trusted in my years. A gathering of my father’s eyes, my uncle’s nose, my grandfather’s brow, my son’s smile, my brother’s ears. I was no longer afraid. Then their voices as one:
This is the good day! The Savior, Christ the Lord, has just been born in Bethlehem. Go now and look for a baby in a manger. You’ll know. Trust me. Tell everyone.
Then suddenly the wings began to beat once more, rhythmic pulses chasing dirt and air through crag and valley. But now there must have been thousands of them, an army of wings that once more ran the hill between rock and lamb, swift and direct, but wild. Their faces? I can only tell you what I saw. A shepherd often dreams a woman’s face on cold watches. Their faces were the fears of those dreams, sheer beauty, a haunting that became voice, words, then song, like the ascending trill of the winter wren:
Glory to God!
Peace on Earth!
We were fools to leave, but we did. Like fisherman in future days would leave nets and follow, so did we. The hopes and fears of all our years met that night and herded us toward Bethlehem, toward wonder.