Eye to Eye on the Milk Stand

May 27 / Lisa McMinn
Eye to Eye on the Milk Stand

Julian birthed her two bucklings with ease last month and nurtures them with generosity and grace. Given she spent her first couple years as an entitled diva prancing around pastures (a pink-nosed delicate doeling born to Clara along with her three strapping brothers) I wondered if she would have the capacity to give what demanding babies would need. She did. Of course she did.

Julian stood and nudged patiently as her bucklings figured out where their nourishment came from and how to access it, attended kindly to their fits and starts at figuring out the gifts of their goatness, stayed near while they napped in the barn when the rest of the herd went foraging. Besides the obvious twists and jumps, falls and summersaults the babies spent several days in wide-eyed awe, legs spread wide, peeing so as not to spray themselves. "Look Mama! I can make water come out of my belly!" Julian nickered and nodded and nudged.

Now, several weeks later, I take Julian's first-of-the-day milk, her sons howling displeasure at being denied this--though they will have her all day to themselves. She looks me in the eye, which goats can do while facing forward, to tell me that while she stands for me as I take her milk, I should not over-assume my right to do so. Her life, she reminds me, matters as my life matters, and while we have this little arrangement (I provide room and board and grain with sunflower seeds and treats besides during the season I take her milk), it does not mean I own her. She reminds me that God, who called me into being also called her into being, and the sustaining love and life that keeps my heart beating and breath coming and going from my lungs does the same for her. She is a gentle yet firm teacher.

Truth is, Julian does not love our milking relationship like her mother did. But then, my milking with Clara emerged out of grief, a tragic sadness that bonded us in ways I've not bonded to a herd animal before. Julian and I are negotiating and navigating and I want to do so with humility, even if also with my own gentle firmness. I too, am her teacher. I appreciate this reciprocity and hope she does as well.

Pierre Teilhard (and Ilia Delio--some of my human teachers just now), come to mind as I sit on my upturned bucket milking Julian. Born in 1881, Teilhard became a Jesuit priest, a geologist (inspired by his love of rocks and landscape as a child), and a paleontologist. His hymns of praise for the universe exude love of God and love for the God-infused world. He was the first to speak of panentheism. God isn't matter (pantheism) but infuses and is united with matter (panentheism). This key point is one Apostle Paul made as well, though without the word panentheism. If God infuses all of creation, matter is more than just the stuff of the created world. Matter bears the depth and breadth of God, who transcends it even as God's nature and being permeates it. [1]

We can't figure this out logically and Western Christianity has found it easier and more comfortable to focus on God's transcendence. What might holding the tension of this paradox--God as fully other than yet also fully immanent--offer us? For one, the whole earth becomes sacred. God is everywhere. There is nowhere that God is not. The gift of that just now allows me to gaze with wonder at these goats and their goatishness as I navigate my relationship with them, knowing something of God in me is touching something of God in them. This brings a sacredness to our relationship.

I have hard questions to hold around that, too. How do I walk and live out my days knowing everyone and everything I touch, engage, appreciate, love, as well as everything I use, consume, distain, and discard is infused with God?

This paradox takes me to places of hopeful awe, and also to conviction and grief. I wonder if carrying this well involves accepting that life requires me to consume and use matter, yet in seeing what I consume as God-infused matter I become mindful to use just enough, and with respect and gratitude. Perhaps such a posture encourages us to consider how we might pour out the energy and satisfaction received from our consumption into other lives, that they might flourish.

Worthy and weighty thoughts...

Tomorrow morning when I greet Julian, I will pause to imagine her as the God-infused creature she is. I will look her in the eye with gratitude that her life overlaps with mine as I pour her some grain (full of sunflower seeds) and we begin to work out our druthers on the milk stand.

[1] Ilia Delio (2017). "Incarnating the Universe: Matter Matters to God." 
Lisa McMinn
Lisa retired from college teaching to pursue a vocation in spiritual care. When not listening to the nudges of God through spiritual direction she might be found meandering the woods, tending goats, hens, and gardens. Lisa is a contemplative Quaker who sees each storied life as part of a bigger story—all of them held together by God.

Although also a writer and speaker, she now more often is found hosting space for spiritual renewal and exploration via spiritual direction, supervision, and personal retreats through Into the Woods Spiritual Care, housed at Fern Creek Farm a few miles outside of Newberg, Oregon, where she lives with her husband.
You can learn more about Lisa, what she offers, and her books and current writing at https://www.ferncreekfarm.com