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Recalcitrant Mammalia and a Living House

My name in Korean means “baby cow.” I’ve been teased about this as far back as I can remember. There’s even a Korean song that pretty much repeats my name over and over again. I changed my name to “Jen” when I entered Junior High School in Brooklyn because I was tired of people butchering the pronunciation. On all legal documents, however, it’s there. Baby cow.

I’ve come to really love my name. Certainly no (other) Korean parent dares to name their daughter a name that means ‘heifer.’ Or one that pretty much discourages me from marrying a man with a surname of Kang (put together with my first name this would make me a puppy) or Park (a bucket, which totally not amusingly, there’s a Korean saying that likens nagging to “scraping the bucket.”)

Psalm 50:10 is my one of my favorite Bible verses. It says, “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” Is your spirit animal in the Bible? Don’t answer that.

I liken the trajectory of my life’s decisions to the path of a herd of animals. Cows and sheep and goats and giant Clydesdale horses. The animals are not always in the barn, if you know what I mean. The moment the door opens they are gallivanting into the green, green grass, deaf to the commands to stay put. Except for the dog, who hears, but decides not to obey. And usually, it’s the darkness that calls them. These are not your typical nyctophobic quadrupeds.

So often, I’m missing a few cows. And basically, they’re out all day. Chompin’ on the weeds. Pooping on the lawn. Hanging out in some other various state/country/Canada(?) far away. Hiking in the hills of Shenandoah. Learning new languages on Rosetta Stone when it should be me learning Portuguese and German and some odd Gaelic language spoken by pirates and Vikings.

But, as the verse implies, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. And all my lost cows are His. I’m assuming He also owns the rebellious dog and the insubordinate goats. And whatever else grub lurks under the rubble. Is it so hard to trust that?

It’s summertime, and as a teacher, it feels good to take a few weeks and relax. I still think about my students though, and how we as teachers try our best to guide, protect, and instruct them. Parents do the same for their children, although a lot of the time, training the younger generation seems to be as effective as herding cats. It stuns me how crazy it is that people with wayward barn animals are trusted to train a whole new generation, to tame their recalcitrant Mammalia.

Sometimes this gallivanting in the dark isn’t so innocuous. It’s easy to caricaturize the spiritual life as an oafish animal, but personal experience indicates that it’s often painful, laden with disappointment, grief, and long silences. I think I spend more time lying with my proverbial hooves up in the air than I do on my knees or walking confidently through the fields. But I am learning new things every day, and being less and less afraid to ask questions and being able to trust God in the dark spaces.

There is a quote from CS Lewis that I always appreciated: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

I believe this is a fairly accurate depiction of what happens when we expect to know how God will arrange our spiritual paths. The knocking around isn’t pleasant, and it certainly isn’t a barn or a pasture like the one we thought we’d live in, nor is it the one we’ve become accustomed to. Perhaps we are not even meant to remain cows, or sheep, or goats. Perhaps this “new creature” thing is more radical than we thought.

Where have your cows been?


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