God In Mud And Majesty

They say you see what you look for. Seek and you will find. Some of my co-travelers looked for dirt and depravity and paganism, and went home satisfied. I was looking in another direction.

God has been known to appear in many forms. I saw God in holy cows, dozens of them, trailing through the kaleidoscopic streets of India. My childhood acquaintance with cattle in my path through the pasture on the way to the school bus reduced my shock at walking beside those bony, humble-looking Asian creatures. Still the Indian scenes struck me funny--cattle resting in hotel doorways and wandering through narrow market streets, sniffing at fresh fruit, and leaving their deposits behind them.

Startling junior-high social studies class questions came to mind: "If those people in India are starving, why don't they eat the cattle instead of worshiping them?" It is a bit strange, from beefeaters' eyes. But God has been revealed countless times in a foolishness that puts the sophisticated to shame: manger, loaves and fishes, bread and wine. Besides, cattle are not worshiped in India; at least I saw none being genuflected at or receiving offerings or being sprinkled with holy water. They are respected, though.

I suspect cattle are honored not only because they could be someone's reincarnated relative, but also because they are humble and so ugly (like a newborn baby) that they are charming, and because many of them give milk for food and dung for fuel and hides for clothing. Not to mention bearing heavy yokes to pull arduous burdens. Versatile animals. Not God themselves, but certainly they give us glimpses of the divine in flesh.

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