Did you ever play on a roundabout when you were a kid? You still see them on playgrounds in some places. They’re those kid-powered merry-go-rounds with a flat round platform and rising bars. A few kids would stand or sit on the platform while other kids would push the bars or run with them to make it spin. Well according to the BBC, with the streets in many towns empty during the Corona virus lockdown in Great Britain, sheep in several places have taken to wandering into children’s playgrounds and apparently, they seem to get a great big kick out of riding on the roundabout! Neighbors who live close to the playgrounds have captured video of these sheep making the thing spin by trotting along on the platform much in the same way that hamsters make their exercise wheels spin. One video shows some sheep riding while others push, just like human kids!
So with the gate left ajar and no shepherd to keep them from wandering off, the sheep headed straight for the playground. Apparently they got bored with just grazing in the same old pasture day after day, even though it was the safest place in the world for them to be. They wanted something different. They wanted something fun.
As I watched the video of these sheep playing on the roundabout, I couldn’t help but think of all the people here in Southern California who flocked to the beach on the first hot, sunny day even though we’re all still under a stay-at-home order. For the sheep in those British villages, romping on the playgrounds is fairly safe. There are no people around, no predators, very few cars and trucks on the road, and sheep can’t catch the Corona virus. For the people on the beach, it’s much more risky.
Like those sheep, we seem to get tired of just nosing our way around the same space every day, even though we know it’s for our own good. We want to get out and do something different. Something new. We’re impatient for this to end. We want it to change.
Impatience and a desire for change isn’t all bad. It makes us creative. It makes us adaptive; it helps us envision a different way of doing and being. But impatience and a hunger for change can also make us take unnecessary risks. It can make us miss things that are right in front of us. And it can lead us to thoughtlessly damage things because we don’t fully understand what’s at stake.
Do you know why white people are called Haole in Hawaii? The word haole in the Hawaiian language means “no breath.” The Hawaiians called the white settlers Haole because they were always in a hurry—they seemed to never take a breath. They were in a hurry to cut down the Sandalwood trees because sandalwood was valuable for trade in China. They were in a hurry to clear the land for sugar plantations. They were in a hurry to dig irrigation canals. They never seemed to stop to see what was already there, how each Hawaiian village was a self-sustaining system. From the Hawaiians’ point of view, the Haole were in a breathless hurry to get on to the next thing. In their religion the Haole spoke of a Good Shepherd, but they didn’t seem to stop much to listen to him. The Hawaiians, on the other hand did listen to the Good Shepherd. They liked Jesus. He sounded in many ways like their god, Kane, who had filled the earth with good things so that they could live a life of abundance, so they very much liked the teaching of Jesus. They liked the Good Shepherd and many decided to follow him.
“I am the gate.” Said Jesus. “Whoever enters by me will be saved (a better translation is ‘will be kept safe’) “and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Life is one of those key words that gets repeated frequently in the Gospel of John. There are three different words in the Greek New Testament that we translate as life. Bios is, essentially, biological life. Psyche is soul or self but can also mean your life. It’s the word that’s used when Jesus asks, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but give up your life (psyche)?” Then there’s zoe, which is the word used here. It could best be understood as aliveness. It’s the same word Jesus uses in John 14:6 when he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I am the aliveness. “I came that you might have aliveness and have it abundantly.”
So what does that mean? Obviously it doesn’t mean that Jesus came so we would all have cash flow like Jeff Bezos. What it does mean, though, is that Jesus came so that we would be abundantly alive to the world and to our own lives, so that we would be aware and engaged whatever our circumstances. I came that you might have aliveness in abundance, spiritually, psychologically, physically, intellectually.
There are all kinds of things that can and will steal that life, that aliveness, from us, the thieves that “climb in by another way.” Anxiety is one of those thieves. Greed, lack of self-control, procrastination… I’m sure if we put our heads together we could come up with a long list of things that steal our aliveness from us. But right now the one I worry about most as we brace ourselves for yet another week of sheltering at home is impatience.
Jesus, as both the gate and gatekeeper of our lives can safeguard us from our own anxieties, impatience and lack of self-control. He can lead us in to the safer space of our interior life to thoughtfully reflect on what is happening and how we’re responding, to give us time and space to carefully evaluate the differing voices that are pressing for other actions. He can lead us out to safe green pastures where we can be nourished by appropriate interactions with others even if those green pastures are virtual spaces supplied by our computers and phones. He can guide us away from being breathless haoles who continually move from one thing to the next without taking time to experience the fullness and vitality of the moment we’re in.
The day will come soon enough when we can all head for our favorite playgrounds again and be as carefree as those sheep on the roundabout. But until that time there is still joy to be had if we are abundantly alive to the moment in Christ and Christ in the moment.