Posted July 27, 2011:
The School of Cow

by Patrick Stewart.

Madonna House is dedicated to the restoration of all things in Christ, and when I arrived for my first visit in the summer of 1988, I was in dire need of restoration.

And it wasn’t only through the people of Madonna House that I was restored. Let me tell you about something I learned in what I call "the school of cow."

For six of my nine months at MH, I lived at the farm, working with Michael Huffman, the man responsible for animal-care.

I was given the job of milking our small dairy herd. Twice a day, once very early in the morning and then just before supper, the cows and I met at the dairy parlor.

Cows have a hierarchy—dare I call it, "a mooing order"?

When milking time comes, anxious to be relieved of the heavy pressure in their udders, they quite readily line themselves up, senior cow first, on down the line, outside the milking parlor.

When I started milking, I had two priorities: (1) not to "mess up" so that my supervisor would not get irritated with me (I was a ‘people-pleaser’ from way back.) and (2) to get the milking over with as quickly as possible.

To that end, I decided to reorganize the cow line-up so that "the ladies" would be milked in the order in which they appeared on my clipboard. This I did by pushing and shoving them where I wanted them to go.

At that time, despite the many graces of my recent conversion (Christmas 1987), I was still mostly living life for me.

Not surprisingly, the cows didn’t like what I was doing. And, I discovered, they have their ways of letting us humans know it if we mess with their natural order and interior equanimity.

You have to get right under the cows to wash and strip their teats of old milk and attach the milking suction cups to their udders. That gives them lots of time to show you that you have annoyed them.

There is a safety railing between you and the cows, but that doesn’t stop them from slapping your face with their tails with amazing accuracy.

They also have a versatile anatomical structure that enables them to kick you sideways as well as backwards.

And then, well, they can make terrible messes that you have to clean off the floors and walls.

Sounds crazy, I know, but those cows seemed to know exactly what they were doing!

Like people who employ similar, (though usually more subtle) tactics with overly controlling bosses and supervisors, parents and friends.

Cows are a lot smarter than I would have ever imagined.

With time, though I had not yet "made the connections," I stopped being frantic about getting the milking done as quickly as possible and became more relaxed. So my movements became slower and more peaceful. I also let the cows keep their preferred milking order.

And you know what? The cows stopped "getting after me." Imagine that!

I got to know their individual personalities and even grew to like them. And you know what? Once I’d stopped over-controlling them, they seemed to take a liking to me. They had their ways of showing that, too.

And once we were at ease with each other, they actually produced sweeter milk with a higher butterfat content and had fewer udder infections.

At the end of my nine-month stay, I said goodbye to the wonderful family of Madonna House who had loved me and been so patient with me.

They had taught me by word and example to better love the Lord, my brothers and sisters, and myself and had turned my whole personal and world view upside down.

I also stopped at the barn for a last visit with my bovine teachers. They, too, had played their part in my ongoing spiritual formation. They taught me to stop thinking only of myself.


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