Friday, April 1, 2011

The Single Shoop

The singular of geese is goose. What’s the singular of sheep? Shoop?

Once upon a time, there was a flock of sheep. They all did as they were told. They walked where they were told, they jumped when they were commanded to ump. They moved as one, and the sheepdogs could run across their backs when all one hundred of them were tightly packed in the fold. Of course, the dogs also nipped at their heels when they were a bit slow, or stopped to nibble a bush along the paths.

These sheep had it good. The shepherd led them in green pastures, and beside clear, cool waters. They never shivered on winter nights because they had their thick wool coats and the company of friends and family close by. In the spring, the shepherd relieved them of their wool, and they liked the Chinook breezes that ruffled the tall grass and cooled their bodies.

But in this flock, there was one shoop. He looked just like his relatives in the flock of sheep. But inside he knew he was different. He had ideas, thoughts of his own. When the flock moved to higher pasture, he liked staying on the edge of the group, where he didn’t feel so crowded. That way, he could see the sights, not just the bodies of other sheep. If the dogs didn’t notice, he could sneak along a parallel path, and get really juicy grass, the tender variety that grew in shaded areas, away from heavy foot traffic.

The shoop knew that the shepherd was always close by. He had heard that the shepherd had defended the flock against coyotes, and things that went “bump” in the night. The shepherd had actually cleared the area of carnivorous predators long before the shoop was born. But since the shoop was always on the outskirts of the large flock, he didn’t really know the shepherd very well, except what the other sheep muttered between mouthfuls of grass.

One evening, before dark, the shoop was munching some tender grass between some large boulders. Only he knew about this little haven, and he quite enjoyed the solitude. Who needed all that bleating and baaing, anyway? Those sheep never paid him any attention or tried to integrate him into their society. They never seemed to notice him.

At sunset, he heard the shepherd call the flock, but the shoop figured he’d just rest in his secret pasture and save the walk back tomorrow morning (he thought sheepishly). He lay down on the grass, and dozed a bit under the stars, enjoying the sounds of the birds rustling in the bushes, and the feel of the breeze playing in the tufts of his wool.

When the sliver of moon was at its zenith, the shoop awoke with a shiver along his spine. There it was again—it wasn’t a dream. A thin howl, and some yips, and a small chorus of answering yelps. The shoop had never heard the sound before, but instinct told him it wasn’t a good sign. He stood up and sniffed the air, but it only smelled of grass. He looked around, but the moonlight wasn’t enough to help him see past his nose. He took a few tentative steps. There was the howl again.

He made his decision. He would have to get back to the sheep and shepherd. But to which of the night pastures had they moved? He went uphill, toward the rocky heights, but when he was nearly to the top of the hill, the howl sounded again, from just above him. In panic, he dodged and stumbled, and fell to his knees, but he was able to put a little distance between himself and the terrifying sound. He moved more cautiously, now, trying not to make noise. Step by step, he moved around the hill, trying to see in the dark.

The shoop gingerly stepped on some sandstone at one point in his travels, but he jumped when he heard a howl from only a hundred yards away. The unstable rock gave way beneath him, and he found himself actually sliding toward the howling creature! “It’s mutton time,” he bleated. “I’m a goner. The flock will never notice my absence. What’s the loss of one shoop, when there are ninety-nine real sheep?”

His forward motion was arrested when he tumbled in a heap at the feet of the shepherd. The shepherd stood tall and strong. He put his arms around the shoop, and lifted him up onto broad shoulders. The shoop’s breathing became more normal as he listened to the words of the shepherd. “There you are, my precious lamb. I’ve been seeking you for hours.”

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.” Isa. 43:1-4 NIV

“How wonderful it would be for you to be here among my children. I planned to give you part of this beautiful land, the finest in the world. I looked forward to your calling me ‘Father’ and thought that you would never turn away from me again.” Jer. 3:19 LB

“I long to be gracious to you; I rise to show you compassion. For I am a God of justice. How gracious I will be when you cry for help! As soon as I hear, I will answer you.” Isa. 30:18-19 NIV

The shepherd took long, bold strides as he joyfully brought the shoop back to the fold. The shoop couldn’t tell who was the more overjoyed: he or the shepherd, who had called for a celebration.

The shoop immediately set about waking the flock, and telling them of his terrifying adventure, and what a wonderful shepherd they had. And a few minutes into his story, he realized that he always wanted to stay close to his rescuer, not out of a sense of fear for the unknown, but of gratitude and love for what and who he did know.

He wanted to be in the midst of the flock, side by side with the shepherd. He wanted to be a sheep, not a shoop. He could still retain his individuality, knowing that the shepherd had specifically braved the dangerous wilderness for him. He knew he was special.

“I am his, and he is mine,” he told his fellow sheep. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.” 

The Single Shoop, by Christy K. Robinson, first appeared in ASM Bulletin, May 1989 

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