Julia Fisher reflects on a chance encounter with a lady and a sheep who knew her voice in the countryside

Julia Fisher
Julia Fisher

It happened on a perfect winter's Sunday afternoon. After days of stormy weather, the wind dropped and the rain stopped. Finally, all was quiet and still. Within a few minutes the sun was shining and the sky had turned from dismal grey to azure blue.

It was early May when we moved into the hamlet where we now live in the heart of the countryside of West Sussex. During the previous eight months we had been restoring our home - an old property that had fallen into neglect. The winter storms had been relentless so when the sun eventually shone once again, we decided it was time to leave the comfort of our log burning stove, put on our wellies and venture out to explore what lay beyond the boundaries of our plot and remind ourselves of why we had moved to the country!

We walked along the lane to a foot path that led up a hill through some woodland. We hadn't taken this route before and were curious to see where it led.

The ground squelched under our boots. Progress was slow as we climbed over fallen branches lying across the path. As we continued slithering and sliding through the mud we started to hear the sound of fast flowing water. We stopped to listen. Was it a waterfall? We carried on and as we rounded a bend the ground fell away steeply to our left and there below us was a bubbling, raging stream that had been transformed into a torrent. Swollen by days of heavy downpours the water was tumbling over fallen branches, gathering sticks and leaves and sweeping them along as in a dance. The rhythm was intoxicating. We stopped and gazed and listened. It was a moment that fed the soul. A moment that held us entranced by its joy and exuberance! Here was a stream enjoying its new found status! Liberated at last! No longer a non-descript muddy trickle; after days of pouring rain it had come alive!

Slowly, almost reluctantly we carried on with our walk. Emerging from the wood, we came to a stile and ahead lay a large field that spread gently upwards into the distance before dipping away again concealing the far boundary. Towards the top of the field we could see a large flock of sheep quietly grazing in the sunshine. This gentle, pastoral scene was a picture of contentment and peace. All was calm. All was well. That was until we heard a woman's voice.

"Come here. Come, come, come," she called. "Come, come, come."

We stopped to watch what was happening. Where was the voice coming from? A woman appeared over the crest of the hill.

"Come, come, come," she called again.

Three other people came into view. They were following the woman at a slight distance. Was she calling her dog we wondered, fearful that the creature may be out of control and liable to chase the ewes? She was moving closer and closer to the flock, continuing to call, "Come, come now, come, come on."

By this time the entire flock of sheep had raised their heads and were looking in the direction of the woman who by now was very close to the sheep. We watched intrigued as she slowly knelt down on the grass. And then it happened. One of the ewes ran over to her and she threw her arms around its neck and gave it a huge embrace! We could hardly believe our eyes! The rest of the flock also looked surprised to witness one of their own behaving in this rather 'unsheepish' way! What should they do? Would they behave in the same way? We didn't have to wait long because a few seconds later they all started to run towards the sheep with the woman. But after just a few paces they stopped; they seemed afraid to go any closer.

The ewe with the woman looked over its shoulder at the rest of the flock. We watched as it started to walk back towards them. Then it turned and ran back to the woman who stroked its head and talked to it some more. The sheep turned to the flock again as if torn as to what to do.

This continued for some minutes before the woman started to walk away from the sheep and rejoin her companions. The sheep too turned and started to walk back to rejoin the flock pausing from time to time to glance back at the woman.

Strangely warmed at what we had just witnessed, we continued our climb to the top of the field and at the next stile met the woman, and her companions, who had called the sheep.

"That was amazing," we said to her. "What was that all about?"

She told us that the sheep, now two years old, had been one of triplets and the farmer, a friend, had not expected her to live as she was by far the weakest of the three lambs. "I wanted to see if I could rescue that lamb", she told us, "so, I offered to take it home and for several weeks she lived next to the Aga and with the help of my family, we bottle fed her and gradually she grew stronger. We wanted her to have a normal life and have lambs of her own. And now, even though she is fully integrated back into the flock, she still comes when I call her," the woman told us, "but she is always torn between being with me and being one of the flock."

Watching this story unfold reminded me of a conversation Jesus had with His disciples when He said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." The sheep that we saw in the field certainly recognised that lady's voice; she knew she could trust her and wasn't afraid to leave the rest of the flock and spend time with her.

That experience was a vivid picture of the Biblical description of how a shepherd cares for his sheep. We are used to seeing sheep dogs rounding up the flock by chasing them from behind. However, the Biblical picture is of a shepherd leading his flock - and they follow because they know his voice. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.