Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Shepherds Returned to Their Flocks

by Jo Robertson

I’m not particularly religious, but I've spent a number of years studying various religions and the King James Bible as literature.

Luke records the miracle of the birth of the Baby and includes the account of the shepherds. You know the story – the long trek to Bethlehem to be taxed, the no-room-in-the-inn scenario, the cave and the manger, the angels and the shepherds.

Because angels with wings and holy seraphim seem more metaphoric than literal to me, I always found what those shepherds did after visiting the manger more interesting than their actually getting there.

Ah, thos
e shepherds! How I loved the them.

Since the concept of a shepherd and his or her flock has universal application, I was intrigued by what the shepherds did afterwards.

They returned to their flocks, Luke says.

And although they told the glorious news and sang praises for God’s gift, they returned to their flocks.


They didn’t rush out and build a holy tabernacle. They didn’t write up the story and publish it in the Bethlehem Daily Journal. Nor did th
ey try to sell their sheep and get a higher fee for them because they’d actually witnessed the babe in the manger.

Instead the shepherds returned to their flocks.

They went about the daily business of herding sheep. Sheep are rather dim-witted creatures. They need a shepherd to tend them, guide them, watch over them.

Let me extend the analogy.

If we’re all shepherds like those ancient commoners, what or who represents our “flocks”?

That’s fairly simple.

Teachers teach students.

Parents parent children, and often pets.

Writers write books.

Presidents preside over governments.

Grandparents – ah yes, they simply spoil those same children or pets.

Readers read books.

And so it goes.

I've been to the Grotto at Bethlehem, an unassuming sight, but I’m not particularly concerned whether the shepherds visited a real hillside cave and found a new-born child two thousand years ago, or whether it’s a beautifu
l metaphor.

What I care about is the message.

The shepherds returned to their flocks.

Thinking about those shepherds gives me new resolve to return to my “flock,” whether it’s my family, my career, my church, my hobbies. Or in my case at this juncture in my life – dedication to my writing.

We’re about to herald a new year – a whole new decade! How cool is that? The thought of an entire decade stretching out before me unblemished by my stupid mistakes is really intriguing. I want to rush out and write something on those pristine years! I want to slough off the old and begin anew!

What about you, readers? What would you like to focus your energies on? What would you like to rededicate yourself to? If you are the shepherd in your life, what’s the “flock” you’re returning to? What commitments will you make, what renewed purpose?


Virginia said...

Come home to me old Golden one!

Virginia said...

My family has always been my flock and me the shephard, but I think its time for the flock to spread their wings and fly on their own, including my husband, he needs to start doing more for himself instead of depending on me for everything. I haven't made any commentments yet for the coming year but I would like to get more exercise and loose a little weight. It just gets so frustrating sometimes. I just need to get my mind set on the task and just do it.

jo robertson said...

Hi, Virginia and congrats! Although, I imagine the rooster might take exception to being called "old" Golden One. He rather imagines himself as a young cockadoodle doo!

jo robertson said...

Don't you think that independence is one of the most important things we can foster in the people we love, Virgina? Including husbands!

I'd like to rededicate myself to a healthier life style too.

Jane said...

Congrats on the GR, Virginia.

I like to believe that I'm pretty easy going, but I do find myself dwelling on the bad when something goes wrong. It would be nice if I could let things slide and go with flow.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Jo - What an interesting post. Can't say I ever really thought about those shepherds after Christmas before but I like how it all ties back to a return to what's important.

My flock is my family number one, my friends, my readers, and my clients. For my family, I'm committing to a healthier life style. For my friends, I plan to be there for them when needed. For my readers, I need to write faster (believe me, I'm actively pursuing that goal!) and for my clients I commit to staying update on the IRS rules - which is no small commitment these days.

Wow - I'm worn out already!

Helen said...

Congrats Virginia have fun with him

What a great post I had never thought of the shepherds either but my flock is my family and what I would really love to do this coming new year is to get healthier and spend more time with my family but for all of that to happen I really need to retire and the way things are going at work that may happen sometime this year there have already been a couple of people made redundant and this new boss is lets say not very nice.

Jo I am sure that you will be published very soon and I can't wait to read your book with the great positive attitude it is bound to happen.

Virginia I too would love to get my hubby being a bit more independent LOL.

Have Fun

Kimberley said...

I love this: "the sheperds returned to their flocks" your commentary really caught my attention. Thank you.
As this new decade starts I want to rededicate myself to my life,family and friends. I hope to be healthier and leave procrastination in the past. I want to reconnect to my love ones far and wide. I really want to reconnect to me, the one that I have buried and hidden for the last decade.
Happy New Year & God Bless

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hi Jo! What a cool blog post! You know, I'd never really thought about the poor shepherds. Bad me!

What am I returning to and rededication too?

Writing, writing and writing.
A good schedule that keeps me sane while I write and manage a family.
Connecting - with family, with friends, with writers - since it keeps my life and my writing fresh and vibrant.
Laughing. A lot. I'm going hunting for laughs. Yep. Going snorking into the new decade!


Love your take on things, Jo!

Virginia, you have the golden one! Make him do some actual work today, otherwise you'll find yourself hosting a New YEars Eve party you didn't know about...

Deb said...

Wow, Jo. This post made me think because I've never really thought about the shepherds and what they did after visiting the Babe in the manger.
"They returned to their flocks." I think that is the whole point of the Good News. Jesus was born and lived amongst man and others helped spread the Word through words of praise and actions, not heralding blasts of showiness. So, they returned to their flocks and everyday life while spreading the Good News.
My flock is my family: my parents, my sisters and their families, my husband, my daughter, and my stepsons, and even my church family. I would like to renew my interest in maintaining good health; I've slacked off and it shows. I enjoy teaching and want to keep my focus on my students and their learning, even amongst all the "stuff" that seems to bog education down.
I look forward to a new year because each day should be looked upon as fresh and new.

Kim Howe said...

Jo, your blog was very powerful. What a wonderful way of phrasing resolutions/changes. For me, I want this year to be about learning--improving my writing, increasing my knowledge of the world, understanding myself better. Thanks for the meaningful thoughts. I wish everyone good luck in pursuing their goals.

Beth said...

What a wonderful, insightful post, Jo! I will focus my energies on my family, my health and my writing. It will be an interesting year with my son going off to college, my older daughter learning to drive and my youngest becoming a teenager *g*

I've also taken steps to get more writing time in each day and I will work on more new projects.

Which means I need to get back to the WIP :-)

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Wow, Jo, seems like you hit a sweet spot for all of us. Kim, I hadn't thought about it, but it really is a "reframe" of the resolutions thing. :>

Deb, I think you're right, the point of the Return was that they brought a new point of view back to their "real" life - spreading the Good News through their actions, their new spirit of understanding. Pretty cool

jo robertson said...

I know what you mean, Jane! I think it's human nature to dwell on the bad things. I'm prone to catatrophizing, thinking that if one little thing happens, then a whole bunch of bad stuff will.

There's a book called "The Power of Now," in which the author talks about not focusing on the past or worrying about the future, but simply enjoying the now. I want to try to do that.

Harder said than done!

jo robertson said...

LOL, Donna. It's hard, isn't it, when we put family as number one, but then all the other commitments squeeze out time!

I like when writers like you express a commitment to their "flock" of readers. I know I have my favorite writers who write so damn slow that I get frustrated!

shannon said...

As a member of your dimwitted flock, I say Baaaaaaa! :)

I am going to focus on some of the little things I have let go. My lack of organization this year is VERY not like me. And my house is always a mess... seriously a MESS. So I am gonna work on sticking to schedules with myself and my kids and getting things done each day, like housework, and cooking meals for my flock. My poor, poor flock. Can they subsist on chicken nuggets and fish sticks? I need to step up my game for sure.

jo robertson said...

Oh, Helen, so sorry about your boss. Having a stressing work environment is one of the worst things.

You, Virginia, and Donna have all expressed a desire to get healthier. That's my goal too. I've given up the idea of getting svelt. I just want to labor without getting short of breath!

jo robertson said...

Awww, thanks for the confidence, Helen. Publishing is such a tricky business. It's very easy to get down on yourself when it doesn't happen in the time frame you've planned.

But I feel good about this upcoming decade, maybe because the "Naughties" or "Double Aughts" was such a terrible decade!

jo robertson said...

Hi, Kimberly! Welcome to the Romance Bandits Lair.

Loads of good wishes to you on your journey to self-discovery and self-evaluation and appreciation!

jo robertson said...

LOL, Jeanne, you make me giggle. Snorking is your middle name. I'll bet you were born with a hearty chortle!

Love the simple message of writing, writing, writing. That's my goal to. When you don't have an outside deadline, it's really easy to slide that goal down to the bottom of the list.

jo robertson said...

Hi, Deb. I didn't know you were a teacher too! Connecting with my students was such a joy for me.

I love the Message of the Shepherds because, regardless of your belief system, you can see that the important thing is moving onward and forward. I can't worry about the entire world, but I can serve my own tiny little flock.

jo robertson said...

Hi, K.J. I love how you've already improved your world in such amazing travels. I think experiencing other peoples and their cultures is one of the most exciting things we can do.

Good luck with your writing, Bandita friend, maybe this year will be our time!

jo robertson said...

You have some exciting, but poignant, times ahead of you, Beth. That first child leaving the nest can be quite traumatizing. You just want to sneak into their dorm rooms and make sure they're sleeping and eating properly LOL.

jo robertson said...

Ah, Jeanne, that's so great, what you and Kim did with the message of my post. Nicely said, friend!

I have to confess I do love those little shepherds (even the old wizened ones) and have often thought about the courage they must've had to return to ordinary lives after such an amazing event.

jo robertson said...

Baaaaaaa, Shannon. As one in the know, I can truthfully say your little flock is well cared for!

And well loved!

BTW, Happy 40th birthday!!!!!!!!!!

jo robertson said...

Ooop, sorry, Kimberley, I just realized I spelled your name wrong.

megan said...

As a mom and wife I have a new flock. Two pesty little sheep who whine and complain and a bigger sheep who, well, whines and complains. And I will always put my energy to them first.
But I will never go astray from my first true love, my first family! This time of year I love to step back and look at my big family I grew up with and smile at the beautiful people who make up that family! I am especially grateful for one sheep inparticular, that has been away a long while and has finally returned to his flock.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Leave it to you to turn something so simple as "The Shepherds Returned to Their Flocks" into a message about hope, commitment, and so much more!

After visiting Turkey last year and seeing the shepherds there, I've thought a lot about 'tending flocks.' And without his/her flock, what would the shepherd do?!?! It's definitely a symbiotic relationship. ;-)

As my little flock grows, and I am not the shepherd with the most seniority, I really need to push myself more. But in a positive way, so I want to strive for more growth as a writer in the coming year, and to be a better shepherd.


Cassondra said...

Woohooo, Virginia!

Way to go!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Congrats on getting the GR, Virginia! He may be a wee bit hung-over from visiting too many wineries yesterday, so give him a couple of aspirin before you set him to work!


Cassondra said...

JO, I absolutely love this post. That's the thing, isn't it? When we go to retreats or have amazing times, get pumped up by something awesome (a conference perhaps, where we spend time with other writers or good friends), afterward we go home. And sometimes it can feel like a letdown, but instead I try to take the new attitude home with me.

Those shepherds witnessed a miracle, and they returned to their normal lives, but with a whole new attitude maybe. You can't really witness a miracle and not be changed.

So I'm returning to my flock this season in a lot of ways. A new job, a more positive outlook, enjoying the holidays for the first time in a few years because I'm not working straight through. In a lot of ways this feels like my own version of a miracle.

My husband is relatively independent, and while I cook and try to manage the house to some extent, he often takes care of me, rather than my taking care of him.

So my "flock" is my 160-year-old house, which needs lots of work, and it's my fur children, and it's my writing. It's also my flower gardens and yard. For my house, writing, and yard, this shepherd has been on sabatical for a while now. It feels good to be returning with a whole new positive outlook.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Jo said Love the simple message of writing, writing, writing. That's my goal to. When you don't have an outside deadline, it's really easy to slide that goal down to the bottom of the list.

That's so true, Jo! Even when you HAVE a deadline, if you let it be too far off the writing can slide. I want to stay in the groove of it, learn to be really productive this year. :>

As to snorking all the way, the family story is that I was a giggle-baby from the start. A lot to live up to, but I think I'm woman enough to do it.


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Jo said: I have to confess I do love those little shepherds (even the old wizened ones) and have often thought about the courage they must've had to return to ordinary lives after such an amazing event.

I often think too, Jo, of just how much courage it took to go look in the first place. I mean, the angel said unto them "fear not" - umm, not a great start to telling someone a message if they're cowering in fear, right?

Then to come off the mountain and go see this kid. Yeaaaahhhhh, right, Dude. I'm a shepherd. I don't LIKE people. I like being out by my lonesome in the hills...

I'm thinking going back to the flock to mentally process that miracle was pretty major. :>

I may be overthinking this, though. Heehee.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Shannon, it's your 40th? Go you! Woot! Happy Birthday!!!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Megan, that prodical lamb returning to the flock sure is a celebratory moment, isn't it? I had that in my family a few years back and it makes the holidays take on a whole new meaning, even now, years later. :>

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Cassondra said, about Retreats: And sometimes it can feel like a letdown, but instead I try to take the new attitude home with me.

This is so true, Cassondra! I'm adding this to my list because it really is a good thing for which to strive, to take that energizing influence back to your office-computer-workspace and let it fuel your creative drive.

Hey, those shepherds are doing pretty good today, masterminding all this good stuff.

jo robertson said...

Oooh, Megan, those are beautiful sentiments. Thanks for sharing. It's always good to remember the "herd" which raised us!

jo robertson said...

Hi, Aunty Cindy!

Writing resurgance is definitely a theme among writers today. I want to focus more, polish more, submit more!

My FIL used to be a sheepherder and tell us wonderful stories about those long nights with the sheep. Hopefully, our flocks are somewhat brighter!

Deb said...

Jeanne, I love your snorks! A snork a day benefits us all. :)

jo robertson said...

Beautifully written, Cassondra. I'm so happy for your "return" to us from a discouraging situation.

Your hubby sounds like mine, independent, capable, does pretty much everything. Sometimes I feel like a wifey-slug!

I love priming the pump, whether it's a conference, a getaway, or a gab fest with friends. These connections always energize me and give me new strength to push toward my goals.

jo robertson said...

Definitely, Jeanne. You're the uproarously hilarious one in the Lair!

jo robertson said...

Deb said...
Jeanne, I love your snorks! A snork a day benefits us all. :)

Well said, Deb! And keeps Sven and the gladiators around!

jo robertson said...

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...
Hey Shannon, it's your 40th? Go you! Woot! Happy Birthday!!!

I just took Shannon's BD gift to her (the day was Dec 27th). Doesn't it just majorly suck to have a December birthday? AC's is in December too!

Anyway, Shannon's father and I were trying to outdo each other on the gifts. I think he won! Darn.

I gave her a pair of pearls which I'd gotten in Hawaii some years ago and a thimble that belonged to my mother. Dr. Big, however, gave her his pocket journal from the year he turned 40. Isn't that way cool??

We were pouring over the notes he'd made. Shannon was about 10, I think, and he noted that "she was becoming a pretty good singer."

BTW, she sings like a coloratura angel, so the understatement was funny!

Susan Sey said...

Oh, Jo, such a wonderful & thought-provoking post! I love this time of year--it's like the first day of school all over again. All those sharp, new pencils. All those blank, lovely notebooks. All that opportunity not to screw things up. :-)

I make new years resolutions, of course. Usually the same ones every year as I never quite manage to meet my goals. This year, though, I'm going with a new one. (I figure I'm never going to learn how to talk less. It's self-hating to keep making a goal I simply can't achieve.)

This year, I'm going to make every effort to honor my first impulse toward kindness. So often I think, "Oh, I should call so & so," or "I should send so & so a card/gift/letter/cake/whatever". And then I think, "Oh, but we're not very close. That might be awkward. Embarassing. Weird."

And before you know it, I'm down to just thinking nice thoughts about that person instead of reaching out & connecting. This year, I want to reach out. Connect. Honor that first impulse to be kind without overthinking things.

You guys will remind me, won't you? Keep me honest? Good. Thanks. :-)

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Deb said: a snork a day benefits us all

HA! So true, Deb.


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Susan said: This year, I'm going to make every effort to honor my first impulse toward kindness.

That's a lovely resolution, Susan. I think I'm going to add that to my list. I do exactly the same thing, get all worried that it's too pushy or I'm butting in. I think I'll just call-write-email and let the chips fall.


See? You're a good influence already! Let's keep each other honest on that one...

jo robertson said...

Susan, what a lovely commitment. What is that about when we fail to follow that first, natural impulse? I once put off doing something like that and the person passed away. It was such heartbreaking regret that I never wanted to do that again. Of course, I didn't have the Banditas to keep me on track, so I've faltered, but I try.

Lance said...

I suppose my flock is back to basics of what I've always tried to do best: making money. Haven't done too well in that arena for a few years.

I always complain about high taxes but I forgot, the Nativity story includes the fact that folks had to travel miles, try to find a place to stay, just so they could be taxed. Now that sucks!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Lance said: I always complain about high taxes but I forgot, the Nativity story includes the fact that folks had to travel miles, try to find a place to stay, just so they could be taxed. Now that sucks!

You've got a point, Lance! At least we get to mail ours in, all protesting, and we have some wiggle room on what we pay. :>

Pops said...

What an insightful way to present a new application of an old story! Makes you also wonder how
many new ways some of you very talented and creative writers can put other interesting applications?
I can also see that this story could also show that God sees the importance of those in society that might be considered the least significant by some. Perhaps the message is that those who best experience both the sacred and the profane are mutually acceptable and God is best served by those who go about there daily work.

jo robertson said...

Hi, Lance! Thanks for commenting. Don't they say the only sure things are death and taxes?

jo robertson said...

Thanks for the generous comment, Pops. If we accept an all inclusive God, then we surely have to accept that we're all truly equal.

Nancy said...

Virginia, congrats on taking home the rooster!

Jo, what the flock I need to return to is the world in general. I get so absorbed in the humdrum and the routine that I don't end up noticing what's around me. I don't focus.

So I need to focus, which probably means actually becoming organized instead of just thinking about doing it.

Louisa Cornell said...

Congrats on catching the bird, Virginia! You might want to lock up the silver, and the car keys, and the booze, and the food and, you get the picture.

Great post, Jo-Mama! What a truly insightful idea. I think returning to our flocks is what we do after RWA Conference. It is always such a great event and then we have to go home and think of all the wonders and truths we learned. The problem is carrying that enthusiasm all year long. A problem those early shepherds understood all too well. It was all very well to witness this miraculous birth, but I would imagine it was hard to see the glory of it all when you are freezing your butt off in a field in Judea scratching out a living and trying to avoid giving the Romans a reason to do you harm.

As a writer who still works full-time at a day job I hate, I get that. RWA Conference always pumps me up and makes me more determined than ever to become a working published writer. The problem lies in keeping that enthusiasm in the presence of an oppressive job and some bosses who make Herod and Tiberius look like amateurs!

My goal this year is to live as who I actually am - a historical romance writer, rather than as what they would like me to be - a drone in the Wal-Mart empire. My soul is that of a writer even when my body is that of cheap labor!

I have to remind myself repeatedly in the words of my ancestors: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."

'Scuse me now. One of my flock is doing the "I have to pee" dance at the door.

Pat Cochran said...

There is no re-dedication in my
future because my dedication to
my "flock" has always been there.
My parents and sibs, then marriage
with husband and children, friends,
volunteer work. They have always
been my calling, my blessings in
this world. I don't have to wait
for the "stars in my crown," they
surround me on a daily basis!

Pat Cochran

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Louisa said The problem lies in keeping that enthusiasm in the presence of an oppressive job and some bosses who make Herod and Tiberius look like amateurs!

SNORK! Yep, I can see the problem here.

You'll do it though, Louisa. You actually DO manage it every day, you historical romance writer you! You are going to make it happen, girlfriend, we have faith in you.

*off to let my two four-legged-flockers out* (One of mine actually looks like a stand in for baa-baa-black-sheep right now, his coat's so long!)

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Pat said: I don't have to wait
for the "stars in my crown," they
surround me on a daily basis!

Aww, man, Pat, that's awesome! What a lovely way to say it. You've inspired me. I'm going to go kiss my two sleeping stars right now.


M. said...

Love, love, love that pic of baby and dad.

jo robertson said...

Nancy, it's hard to think of you being anything BUT very organized! But I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels!

jo robertson said...

LOL, Louisa, sounds like you've had some first-hand experience with that pesky bird.

I certainly admire all the writers like you who perservere with your writing while hanging on to those dreadful day jobs!

jo robertson said...

Awww, beautiful Pat. Like Jeanne, I think I'll go check on my "stars" too.

jo robertson said...

Glad you like the picture, M. Don't piccies of men with babies just make something quiver inside you? I wonder why that is?

Kennan said...

ahhhh, the analogy of the flock. good one to think about as i hit the "two week" mark on my visit to California this year. i am missing our routine back home in Indiana; reading to the kids, cooking real food, exercising. my flock is my everyday life in the midwest--boring, routine, but beautiful. i don't miss the stray cats peeing in my garage or the 10 degree weather though. so we'll stay a little longer here!

jo robertson said...

Hi, Kennan, even with our recent California rain, I KNOW you don't miss the Indiana weather. But the routine, ah, that's different, isn't it?

Somehow my routine, however boring, grounds me.