The Shepherd’s Story


Once in the fields in a storm
hunched down in a cave
I saw a red tongue of fire
leap from the heavens
lick down a cedar,
and split it in two.

The cloven tree shuddered
and screeched
as it crashed to the ground,
like an animal in the jaw
of some great beast.


It wasn’t what you’d think –
lovely heavenly hosts
in neat rows and pretty song.

It was mostly wings and terror.

Cold night
stars like ice
fire down to coals
flock settled in the fold.

Some scattered for cover, crying
the world is ending
which it was,
but not the way you think.

Fear –
tomorrow’s frets
yesterday’s regrets –
that ember of anxiety
that never goes out
no matter how much religion
you throw at it –

fear rose up and choked me.

The great heaping clouds
of wings
and the Word that wrote itself
in the marrow of my bones
split me
into before and after
and left me puddled
on the ground
soaking into mystery.

Most don’t reckon the sheer terror
of God crashing into their lives.
I learned fear was not my enemy,
but a sign of His presence.

Ignorant and blind as a wood tick
on a lamb’s flank,
I’d been crawling
through a patch of fleece
and a bit of warm skin
without a clue
as to what is really going on.

I froze, stupefied.

The sovereign almighty God was asking
something of me,
God wanted me,
my will,
the way I held my world together in my
wood tick brain
my perceptions and understanding
my sense of competence,
my adequacy
seized and consumed by wings.

A master’s painting?
A Messiah chorus?
A quiet pastoral scene?

It was gasping for air,
trying to stay upright
with not a thing to hang onto.

What’s the Almighty to do –
all hobbled up with majesty
finally having to slip in the back
of the world
through a virgin’s womb?

It was Truth
taking aim
condensing its enormity –
its hosts and universes,
its fire and power and goodness –
and homing into me
like a dove returning to her nest
like a lamb turning to the breast.

It wasn’t what you’d think.
It was mostly wings and terror.

Then, something so plain
and ordinary,
a baby,
and a Love small enough
for me to carry.






For who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? Malachi 3:2
One Christmas I got a good dose of the awesome power of God. I wrote this poem in an attempt to describe that experience.  I love the way Annie Dillard puts it: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.”
May the Almighty God knock your socks off this Christmas!

3 responses to “The Shepherd’s Story

  1. I love this. Sometimes I long for “Mostly wings and terror” just to shock me out of my conplacency. Thank you, and have a VERY SCARY CHRISTMAS! 🙂

  2. Finding it hard to breathe,
    after words like these.

    Socks knocked off, only bare feet,
    standing on the holy ground
    before the wings and terror…

    Merry Christmas, friend…
    All’s grace,

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