Posted by: L. E. Barnes | April 22, 2010

The Dun Cow

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my own spiritual struggles, doubts, and frustrations. I’m sure we all go through those things. Not long ago I even started to sink into a despair and found myself fussing at God over my problems, wanting explanations for them and wondering whether there was any use in persevering in my spiritual disciplines. Fortunately, I snapped out of it and realized how foolish such thinking was.
Things often don’t make sense to us. As believers, we may feel abandoned by God and become mired in bewilderment and doubt. People in the Bible certainly did. We may cry out to God for answers, but more often than not, no answers come.

Or rather, the kind of answers we want doesn’t come. God usually isn’t going to explain why things are the way they are. What gives me the greatest comfort and hope is that God’s answer was to enter into our suffering–hence, the cross. “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured…” (Isaiah 53:4).

I love the following scene from Walter Wangerin’s fantasy novel The Book of the Dun Cow. In it, the novel’s protagonist, a talking rooster named Chauntecleer (derived from one of the stories in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales), having suffered some tragedies and facing what seems a very bleak future, decides to let God know how he feels. And a reply comes, not in a way he had expected but that illustrates the above words from Isaiah:

“You, God! You took me out of my life! You set me into this false place. You made me believe in you. You gave me hope! O my God, you taught me to hope! And then you killed me…. And by my will I demand to know now–it is most certainly time now to know: O God, where are you? Why have you hidden your face from us?… Infinite God, tell me what we have done to be shut from the rest of the universe! But you won’t tell me. You’ve dropped us in a bucket and let us be. It wears a person out, you know. Yeah, well.”

… And that is when the Dun Cow came to him.

She put her soft nose against him, to nudge him into a more peaceful position. Gently she arranged his head so that he might clearly see her. Her sweet breath went into his nostrils, and she assumed that he woke up; but he didn’t move. The Dun Cow took a single step back from the Rooster, then, and looked at him.

Horns strangely dangerous on one so soft stood wide away and sharp from either side of her head.

Her eyes were liquid with compassion–deep, deep, as the earth is deep. Her brow knew his suffering and knew, besides that, worlds more. But the goodness was that, though her wide brow knew so much, yet it bent over his pain alone and creased with it.

Chauntecleer watched his own desolation appear in the brown eyes of the Cow, then sink so deeply into them that she shuddered. Her eyes pooled as she looked at him. The tears rose and spilled over. And then she was weeping even as he had wept a few minutes ago–except without the anger. Strangely, Chauntecleer felt an urge to comfort her; but at this moment he was no Lord, and the initiative was not in him. A simple creature only, he watched–felt–the miracle take place. Nothing changed: The clouds would not be removed, nor his sons returned, nor his knowledge plenished. But there was this. His grief had become her grief, his sorrow her own. And though he grieved not one bit less for that, yet his heart made room for her, for her will and wisdom, and he bore the sorrow better.

Thank you, Mr. Wangerin, for this poignant scene. We probably all need a “Dun Cow” at times to remind us that God feels our pain and will never forsake us.

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