We could say the search for meaning – which is a holy search – becomes imperiled whenever the poet-self and the shepherd-self are out of balance. If one is only a shepherd, she will risk being pedantic and overly serious; her ego will get in the way of her true service, and she will forget that each being shares the burden of caretaking – it is not up to her alone. The image of one shepherd over many no longer holds. Similar to how it has been said that the next Buddha is the sangha, the Jewish view of redemption imagines a shepherd-collective, a community of shepherds taking turns taking care.
If one is only a poet, without a good measure of shepherd mixed in, there is a risk the poems will not reach outward and be in dialogue; that they will not intend towards the transformative – which is where all poems must intend, even if they fail. The poet brings to the shepherd an appreciation for the multiplicity of truths, for the impossibility of fixing anything. Without the poet-self, we become ideologues. The shepherd brings to the poet a reminder that too often our search becomes self-serving, discovery of self for its own sake; that others become stepping stones for us on the road to some imagined “actualization.” Often the search for meaning unwittingly becomes a defense against whatever or whoever is quietly sitting across from us in the café, across the table, by the side of the road, the other in our life as it is.
—Josh Boettiger, “The Poet and the Shepherd”
Story Editor Betsy Cornwell shares Josh Boettiger’s essay on King David and Leonard Cohen, “The Poet and the Shepherd,” and Susan McCaslin’s meditation on spiritual journeys, “Guidance,” in this episode of Parabola Magazine’s free monthly podcast. Our podcast is available to stream or download for free through SoundCloud and iTunes.