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Shades of the sacred in 2 western towns

“The world is a book,” said salty, old Saint Augustine. “Those who do not travel read only one page.”

Down the years, I’ve tried to fill my life with as many pages as possible. And sometimes, like a dutiful student, I’ll even scrawl a few notes. For a religion writer, spiritual stuff can be found at every mile marker and roadside attraction. (Augustine also said, “The world is a God-soaked sponge.”)

So here are my notes from a couple of whistle-stop western towns.

Autumn Afternoon, Moapa, Nevada

Hard rain on the windshield makes me hungry. It sounds like bacon on a griddle.

In a cloudburst, the badlands of Nevada aren’t all that bad.

Subtle colors come into high relief, but the creosote bushes still look thirsty after a full day of drinking.

I count each plant as I pass.

When I get to 200,000, a swale makes a river of the road.

“Thanks be to God!” cried Mendelssohn’s Elijah. “He laveth the thirsty land!”

“Laveth” means “washes.” The metaphor’s mixed.

But today no one cares.

When rain comes to the desert, all bad writing is forgiven.

Spring Morning, Big Timber, Montana

In the minds of most, Montana is cattle country, but in Sweet Grass County, the “sheep safely graze.”

Lambs play on a field.
Lambs play on a field.

It’s lambing season, with newborns — like snowflakes — dropping in dozens.

Christians look at lambs and see the Savior.

The Savior looks at them and sees you and me.

A corner of his heart was set aside for sheep and children; they blended in his mind:

More wide-eyed than wise.

Submissive but wary.

Prone to wander, while longing to belong.

And always looking to be led.

In English, “sheep” is both singular and plural, it’s the one and also the many.

The flock, it seems, is of one mind and heart.