When the Cowboy Chorale asked for a time to sing to us, I suggested this Sunday.
“The theme,” I said to the lead cowboy, “is rest, so we’ll have to sing about cowboys resting on the range.” He chortled, and said he would think about it. Obviously I missed something. It wasn’t until I finished the deeply complex novel Centennial by James Michener that I realized my error: the cowboy life was not one of rest.
The novel intensely tells the story of the plains, of the Platte River in Colorado and all of the things that eventually gave rise to the cowboy and all the things that made the cowboys gone. With meticulous detail and fictional characters that are historical composites of real cowboys he illustrates a rather restless life.
Indeed, what rest is there in watching thousands of cattle day and night? To drive them miles upon miles through barren land, storms, raiders, rattlesnakes, river crossings, drought, and all sorts of calamities? As I read, lyrics from Blue Boat Home by Peter Mayer came to me:
Though below me I feel no motion Standing on these mountains and plains Far away from the rolling ocean Still my dry land heart can say I've been sailing all my life now Never harbor nor port have I known
Can anyone sing those words more truly than the cowboys who roamed the plains for months and years at a time? Like the cowboy, restlessness comes to all of us. We too may sleep with one eye open, always watchful, pistols ready, so weary that we tie ourselves to our horse lest we fall off. Sometimes there is too much at stake for rest. We must put our whole bodies and selves to the job.
I will not tell you to rest if you cannot any more than I could tell a cowboy to abandon a herd. Perhaps restlessness should be honored as a time in which we know where we are going and we are driven to it. May we find rest, if possible, but if not possible, then let us learn to love the land, loneliness and the restlessness that comes with it. Let us have a vision so strong that it will sustain us even if we cannot rest. Let us form an awesome camaraderie together like cowboys on a cattle drive – an experience so intense that at the end, we all are kin.