Rescue Dogs, Lost Sheep, and Drowned Women

Rescue Dogs, Lost Sheep, and Drowned Women

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The icon of Christ in my prayer corner is The Good Shepherd; I chose it because The Good Shepherd most aptly describes my journey to Orthodoxy. I’d heard the Parable of the Lost Sheep ever since I was a child in Protestant Sunday School, but as an Evangelical child, I’d been taught to think of myself as among the 99 saved sheep. I’d thought the Good Shepherd was rescuing some other lost lamb.

Then I became an adult, and the tares and thorns of life started crowding and choking my faith. I had a nervous breakdown. I became a Failed Evangelical. I’d married; I’d divorced. I wandered in and out of numerous churches for too many years until I discovered the Orthodox Church in my early 40s.

I’d memorized an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem one time because it expressed my own loneliness. While my brokenness was more than the heartbreak of the poem, Sonnet VII from Fatal Interview conveyed the isolation I felt. “Night is my sister. . .” the poem begins, and ends by concluding that “No one but Night” sees the poet lying alone on a dark beach. The body of the poem describes the narrator’s feeling of herself as a shipwreck victim, lying on the shore barely breathing, hoping for a rescue she knows will not come:

“Small chance, however, in a storm so black,
A man will leave his friendly fire and snug
For a drowned woman’s sake, and bring her back
To drip and scatter shells upon the rug.”

For more years than I care to admit, I felt like a drowned woman.

When I think of the Good Shepherd rescuing the one lost lamb, it is the Millay poem I sometimes consider. The God-Man set aside equality with the Father to humble Himself and put on flesh like a Shepherd searching wolf-inhabited hills to make his flock whole, or a fisherman leaving the safety and warmth of a dry cottage in the middle of a storm to rescue a drowned woman.

The sheep in my icon, slung across Christ’s shoulders, is so trusting. (So unlike myself.) We have a new puppy in the house, a six-month-old rescue dog from the SPCA. When I notice Christ holding the lamb’s feet, I think about how my dogs dislike having their paws touched. It takes two of us to clip the older one’s nails; one to straddle her squirming torso and the other to grab the paw and snip. I’m a city girl, not a farm girl; I’ve heard that lambs are docile creatures, more agreeable than my dogs, no doubt. Nonetheless, when I see the lamb wrapped around Christ’s neck, I consider how my dogs absolutely hate being picked up; how they struggle to throw themselves back down to terra firma while the lamb is content, perfectly relaxed. The nail marks on Christ’s hands and the horizontal arm of the cross behind His shoulders reminds me that here is our crucified and risen Lord; the icon is not an illustration of the parable!

When I became Orthodox, finally I understood (or, more accurately, it has been a process of ever-increasing understanding): All the trials and storms I’d faced brought me to the Church, to God; they were for my spiritual benefit. I was the lost sheep Christ came to save. Two years after my chrismation, I still feel the thankfulness that I’ve been searched for and found.

The God-Man humbled himself on the Cross. To rescue lost sheep. To bestow life on those in the tombs. And those drowned on the shoreline.

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Cynthia Long

Cynthia Long is a librarian, folklorist, and writer with a focus in Celtic folklore, mythology, and history. She earned her M.F.A. in Fiction from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Penn., in May 2016. In August 2017 she presented at Doxacon, the Orthodox Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, on the topic of fairy tales and the famous C.S. Lewis quotation that says, "Some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again." Cynthia was Chrismated in September 2012 and attends St. George Church in the Philadelphia suburbs, where she tends the parish library.