Passover, Easter and the ethics of a shepherd: Salutin
All the main founder-heroes in the Hebrew Bible — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David — thrived in wandering, rural lives.
By Rick Salutin, Toronto Star, March 29, 2013 Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony, in The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, claims the Old Testament (the Jewish-Hebrew part of the Bible) is rooted in “the ethics of a shepherd.” All the main founder-heroes there — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David — thrived in wandering, rural lives. Settled, urban locales like Babylon, Egypt, even Jerusalem, were far more ambiguous morally. Moses dies just as the Hebrew tribes end their 40 desert years. David’s moral compass deteriorates when he’s king in Jerusalem. Hazony implies an original biblical preference — albeit a complex one — for wandering.
The "Wanderer" archetype is the one Carole Pearson suggests is appropriate when transitioning from one principal archetype to another: "victim" to "warrior" for example, or from "warrior" to "magician"
in her outstanding book, The Hero Within. The New Testament model is found in the wandering for forty days and nights in the Garden of Gethsemane, prior to the crucifixion, in the life of Jesus.
There is a kind of openness under the open sky, alone with the animals and the elements, each of these integral to the wandering experience. There is really no one to impress, and no one else attempting to impress the solitary shepherd. There is only the care of the animals, and the protection and care of oneself that renders many of the political dramas of highly interactive urban life absurd, tempting, complicating and too often incompatible with the human capacity for holding true to the moral compass.
There is also a very different expectation from wandering than from urbanity, the job, the income, the competition, the sales, the reports, the rise and fall of the economic tide resulting from forces humans attempt to control, whereas the shepherd make no such foolish attempts to control either his animals or the conditions under which he and they exist. Of course, the shepherd has heard the stories of the marauding thieves who may happen along at any time, and either kill or steal his flock, depending on their state of mind. Of course, he has also heard the stories of the inclement winds, the sandstorms, and the occasions voracious predator animal which is determined to feed off his flock.
Yet, there is a kind of clarity to his relationship to the land and the animals; survival is at the core of their shared existence. Food, exercise, rest, contemplation and quiet are among the top priorities for the shepherd. Occasionally a new baby must be helped from womb to open air; occasionally, an ill animal requires 'putting down'....and so the shepherd is constantly keeping in touch with both birth and death...the two bookends of all living creatures' existence.
And the open sky, with all of its wonders of both individual stars and multiple galaxies becomes an intimate companion to the shepherd, with all of the speculation those wonders can only inspire, and all of the permanence and the transcendence that are both represented in that dazzling dome. Little wonder that early historic leadership accompanied such modest, challenging, opening and focused existences.
Losing sight of what is important could and did prove instantly catastrophic. Holding true to the task and the balance and the equilibrium that includes night following day, relentlessly yet predictably, that vegetation usually pointed to some moisture, or vice versa, that animals' needs, while recurring are relatively simple and predictable, as are shepherds when faced with limited resources and the constant need to search for them.
It is in the urban world that multiple choices, to feed multiple and insatiable motives, among multiple and complex communities, over mostly finite resources like land and water and air and something to eat, where tensions are more complex, more varied in their sources, their combatants, their methods and their outcomes. And while building larger and more densely populated urban dwelling places, in distant corners of our planet, we are also losing much of the solidarity that was the life of the shepherd.
We are constantly bombarded by stimuli, to the point where we are suffering overload, and the natural anxiety that accompanies that overload, including our loss of wonder, our loss of reflective and meditative time, our loss of a singular focus on survival, through our own efforts, now being almost completely dependent on the competing appetites of many others, mostly unknown, who push and pull levers in our lives, as if our lives were their's to push and pull.
And so "fitting in" to the local culture, the workplace culture, the school or church culture, becomes the 'holy grail' whereas wandering, and not 'fitting in' and 'not complying' and 'not conforming' would preserve many of the virtues and possibilities that were and are indigenous to the shepherd.
Call this nostalgia for a lost past if you like. More cogently, it seems as if we have willingly succumbed to the ravages of joining games for which there are increasingly no rules, no training and no mentors, except for those whose clan, family have already climbed to the top of the social, political, economic totem pole of the culture.
And increasingly, there is also an apparent atrophy of any motivation to pass those rules, and training along, in the narcissistic dream that as fewer and fewer seek to join the competitive race, there will be "more" for those already living in the gated communities, as one colleague put it, describing his Caribbean retreat: "We live in a cage of iron, protected from the marauding thieves as the gap between the have's and the have-not's grows bigger and some will do anything to stay alive!"
Ironically, both doves and sheep, while poetically and romantically, have been depicted as quiet, peaceful and pastoral creatures, they are both vicious, dangerous and harmful to others of their species. Shepherds would have to keep their 'charges' from eliminating the rest of the flock, and would thereby also have considerable experience in negotiating, mediating and defending the weaker and more vulnerable from the stronger and more predatory of their flock.
That capacity too, seems to have gone with the migration to the cities. We no longer care about the weaker and more vulnerable among us. They are left to their own meager, at best, resources, and often repeat the cycle of poverty, disease, failure and tragedy that accompanied their ancestors.
We know how to do things differently; we do know how to pass the needed skills and insights and perceptions that strive to look "into the life of things" (as Wordsworth puts it) that are both necessary for the shepherd and would significantly enhance the lives of all urban dwellers...but we continue to exaggerate the importance of the newly discovered "techie" operations, before we instill the awe of the open sky, and the simplicity of the perseverance and tenacity of the shepherd to care for and to protect his flock...and so we have become little more than automatons pushing the buttons that we put in front of us and in front of our children, wondering what happened to the stars and galaxies, visible mostly now to the astronomers, the experts, and to few others.
Experts alone, it seems, have risen to the top of our hierarchy of accomplishments, and shepherds have slipped off the totem pole of values.
Sad, eh? Where are the Abraham's, Isaac's, Jacob's, Moses's, David's that we need to bring us back "into" the wilderness, having attempted to survive for too long under the ashphalt and the wires and the satellites of our urbanities?