Oniontown Pastoral: Thoughts of a Horse in the Snow
This past Sunday evening I sat with wife Kathy in the emergency room as the kind professionals there tested her blood and prescribed a legion of pills. “Viral bronchitis” was their diagnosis, but they clearly meant, “Yeah, you caught that nasty thing going around.”
I’m just now getting over the same scourge, which the family acquired from grandson Cole, who brought it home from pre-school.
But who really knows where it came from? A virus bloweth where it listeth, and thou heareth the cough and sniffle thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth.
My mind has been swirling with questions lately, frivolous and profound. What gives a cough the nerve to linger for weeks? Why do some souls suffer more than others? And what do animals think about snow?
I asked retired cow veterinarian Dave that last question after worship recently: “So, Dave, when I see a horse with snow on its back, should I feel sorry for it?”
The gentle, loving laughter that came from those gathered round was fully expected. This city boy is a willing source of amusement at St. John’s Lutheran Church. (It took six months for “round bale” to sink in. I had to get “rolled bale” and “round hay” out of my system first.)
Dave explained that most cows and horses would choose to be outside, even if you offered them a heated barn.
Karen knows horses and added, “You know, horses can sleep standing up?”
“That’s what I thought,” I said, “but I see so many lying down. Why is that?”
“Because horses are all different,” she said. “Some like to lie down.”
Karen’s husband Ron’s eyes were tearing up, his face pink, which suited me fine, since I love to laugh at myself and watch others join in.
After the fun, though, the germ of my question remained. What started me thinking was a blonde horse I’ve named Onslow. He abides in a fenced-in yard, munching from his private round bale. Another dozen or so horses have run of the place. (I trust that the farmer has good reasons for this arrangement. People who live near Oniontown tend to have wise hearts.)
Onslow, whom I see but a few times per week on my commute, takes up a disproportionate amount of my spiritual space. He was the animal who had snow on his back.
Is it foolish to wonder what a horse is thinking? I can still see him standing there motionless, a white dusting settled where his saddle would be.
Days ago on the way to St. John’s I looked for Onslow in his usual digs. A tarp covered his hay. I felt a twinge of concern. Where was he?
The answer came immediately and, to these city eyes, joyfully. Grazing in the same field with the other horses was my old buddy.
When I got to the church, I enjoyed farmers cheese from Wagler’s Camp Perry store and savored Onslow’s freedom.
Since the morning was quiet, I looked out at the pine trees and took stock of how little I know for sure. Maybe I caught my virus from a dirty doorknob. Maybe Onslow didn’t appreciate being moved from his solitude. Maybe napping on his feet as snow covers him is bliss.
Who knows? Certainly not me. But I bet my life that God is mindful of Onslow. Making that wager while chewing farmers cheese, I felt sweet hope settle upon me.
I received it for St. John’s, Oniontown and beyond—the way a child’s open hand welcomes falling snowflakes. The goodbyes we’ve said in the last year, many hard to bear, have left us raw. Hope is our salve.
So I’ll keep asking questions, especially the one greeted only with silence this side of glory: “Why?” If I get exposed to a few answers, I might catch wisdom.
Last Sunday I told Dave, “We need to have lunch. You need to tell me more about cows.”
“Oh,” he laughed, “I can tell you all about cows.”
I’ll listen eagerly. Whatever is on their minds, I want to know they’re well. And I want Onslow to be glad.