Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Job 39) transports me to the lone prairie on a cattle drive, where a seasoned old cowhand, Curly, leaves the trail with a Manhattan man in a mid-life crisis, Mitch, to help a troubled cow birth a calf. Curly: I’ll hold her down and you deliver the calf. Mitch: Excuse me? Hello? Why don’t I hold her down? Curly: ‘Cause you don’t know how. She’ll kick you and kill you and her and the calf, and that’s too much for me to carry back. Mitch: I see your point. Curly: Come on, she’s ready. She’s bursting! Mitch: Oh God, there’s gonna be bursting? Curly: Just reach in and pull out the calf. . . It’s turned the wrong way. Get it out! Mitch: Uh oh. My watch came off. Curly: Now! Mitch: It was a gift. Curly: Do it! Lo and behold, Mitch does it, and Norman the calf enters the world in one of my favorite scenes from City Slickers.
Job may not have been a city slicker, but he was a domesticated man of great privilege, going through a severe mid-life crisis after the Accuser talked God into letting him take away everything precious to Job – prosperity, family, health. A series of conversations between Job and his remaining companions and between Job and God ensues. Here in today’s passage, I can imagine God as the old seasoned cowboy Curly, played by Jack Palance, taking Job, played by Billy Crystal, off the trail to take him to task. The secret of life comes in a series of questions: What can you tell me about how the mountain goats give birth? Have you noticed how I created the ostrich without a lick of sense? Or how I gave power and courage to the horse? Did you teach the hawk how to fly? Do you know anything about the stubborn freedom of wild asses? The wisdom of God, displayed in donkeys and bird brains and snorting stallions. Did Job really want to challenge God?
It didn’t take God long to reveal the ignorance of the sophisticated human in relation to the brilliance of the wild. The role of culture is to help us escape the wild, to rise above the coarse and uncouth and uncultured wildness of creation. But the farther we get from the wild, the more we try to transcend the world of animal instinct, the farther we get from wisdom, from the knowledge of God. So city slickers go out west to play cowboy and try to make sense of it all. In another of my favorite scenes, Mitch learns the secret of life. Curly: How old are you, 38? Mitch: 39. Curly: Yeah, You all come out here about the same age, same problems. Spend about 50 weeks a year getting knots in your rope and then, then you think two weeks up here will untie them for you. None of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is? Mitch: No, what? Curly: (lifting up his index finger) This. Mitch: Your finger? Curly: One thing. Just one thing. Stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit. Mitch: That’s great, but what’s the one thing? Curly: That’s what you’ve got to figure out. It’s the genius of the wild. Look at the mountain goat, or the bird brained ostrich, or the horse, or the wild ass, and you’ll see creatures who have figured out their one thing. They are doing their thing, or more precisely, they are being the one thing they are created to be. And we’re still trying to figure it out, sometimes challenging God along the way. Not too wise.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.