"Campfire, some coffee,
from a tin cup in my hand.
Sure warms the fingers when it's cold
Playing an old guitar,
a friend I understand,
sure smoothes the wrinkles in my soul
And I think God must be a cowboy at heart.
'Cause He made wide-open spaces, from the start.
He made grass and trees and mountains,
and a horse to be a friend.
And trails to lead old cowboys home again..."
There was a year or two when this Dan Seals album served as the background music during long, happy days of driving my old Jeep, along Colorado's Front Range, for office appointments and home visits. Me 'n Dan singing "God Must Be a Cowboy..." at the top of our lungs...the window cranked down, my books next to me on the long bench seat, and a perfect blue Rocky Mountain sky overhead.
I like thinking of God as a Cowboy....it makes me smile. I've had the privilege of knowing some pretty amazing cowboys. Guys...and gals...like Bob Howe, Rusty Signor, "Bronco" Bill Webster, Dave Marshall, Don Gregory, Dustin Monie, Steve Chitwood, Rob Boucher, Kit and Ian Bartalos, Brooks Anderson, Leslie Miller, Linda Clarke, Allison Paddock Abdelnour, Pete Husack, Heather Barron, Jessie Orlet, Matthew Leon, Laura Southworth, Moffet Zoe, Kenny D"Evelyn, Kristin Voorhees (and oh my goodness, there are so many, many more...including all* the AU corral staff from the last few decades)...but, for me, the cowboy I've learned the most from, about what God, as a cowboy, might be like...is Lachlan Clarke.
Lach is, first and foremost, a gentleman. He is gentle. And it is this gentleness, that makes him one of the strongest men I have ever known. He is quiet. Without saying a word, teenagers stop what they are doing...or saying...and wait quietly for instruction. Horses are calmed, dogs stop barking, and the earth seems hushed in anticipation of his next move.
He is alert. If there ever, really, was a man with "eyes in the back of his head," it would be Lachlan Clarke. He moves with the stealth of an Indian brave hunting in the forest, and on a cattle drive, he can anticipate a steer's next move with uncanny foresight.
This summer while working with Lach, I learned a lot about why the metaphor of God, as a cowboy, might serve as a spiritual discipline. I discovered that a cowboy is unfazed by shifting conditions, or scenes. He is well-prepared, and stays deep in the saddle, whether in storm, or shine. He is ever-alert to the direction of the wind, the quiver of a horse's flanks, the undulating, hard-packed pasture beneath her hooves, the scents of crushed mountain yarrow, and the evolving gold of an aspen-filled valley. He is alert, but unruffled by fast-approaching weather patterns...making course corrections, and trail changes without reaction, or remark.
No matter how alarming the picture, a cowboy...or at least the ones I've known, and especially Lachlan Clarke...takes it in stride. It's not a problem, just another opportunity to put a developed skillset to use...cleaning, bandaging, repairing, navigating, nursing, all done without fear, or trembling. He knows that the real work happens in the heart. He is calm, mentally disciplined, unruffled. He has an entire herd of horses (and sometimes, kids and cattle) reading the winds of his emotional leadership, he can't afford to react...so he doesn't.
I could go on and on.
A cowboy's love for the entire earth...dry, dusty pastures, verdant mountain valleys, long hot days, clear, cold nights under a bowl of stars with a "horse to be a friend," a mug of something hot in his hands, and a guitar for conversation...it's all good. His ability to lead without saying a word...to signal a change of direction, with a hand so gentle, that those watching have no idea that a finger even twitched.
But what Lach most taught me this summer, about God as a cowboy, was the gentle strength of love. Love without words, love that encourages with the tenderness of a whisper, love that is firm, love that lets go, love that has the courage to do what needs to be done, love that laughs, and sings, and says, "no," while making you just so glad that you were deserving of his correction.
I learned practical lessons about the love that listens with every cell of its entire being, while still aware of everything else around him. About the love that comforts with one smooth stroke along the long neck of a mare who is skittish and uncertain in a new setting. I learned about the love that persists long after everyone else has gone to the dining room for dinner, and is up before dawn. I learned that an entire herd will stand at the fence line waiting for his boots on the porch of his cabin in the morning, or his truck on the road at dinnertime...and I learned that even the most distracted teen will give his/her undivided attention to the kind of love that puts up with "no nonsense," but loves beyond mistake or failing.
Yes, I do think that God must be a cowboy at heart, because not only did He make "wide open spaces from the start," but because all the cowboys (and cowgirls) I know have taught me to trust in the unseen, listen for the unheard, wait for the unexpected, and love with the unparalleled, unfathomable, incomparable tenderness founded in real strength...strong faith, hope, and respect for God's silent power, tender mercy, and amazing grace.
Thanks Lach, Linda..and all the amazing horses who have taught us immeasurable lessons in gentleness, strength, patience, perserverence, trust, and grace...especially to our dear Espresso who taught me to fly...
Kate Robertson, CS
[photo credit: Ashley Bay 2010]
*there are so many of you who have taught me the gifts of divine Love, from the saddle of a horse...I wish I could name you, each and all, here...but the list would be so long I would never get this posted. Please know that you are there in my heart, and between the lines. Thank you for teaching my daughters about God from this vantage point.