The Good Shepherd as I AM
John’s gospel is written from direct experience married to the profound revelation and knowledge that came after the resurrection of Christ. These two related sayings in chapter 10 are interwoven with a long exposition of their everyday meaning by Jesus in relation to his purpose and destiny.
I AM the door of the sheep. (Jn 10:5)
I AM the good shepherd. (Jn 10:14)
The imaginative symbolism of sheep is rarely considered in a society like mine, Australia, where sheep are commodities to use up. The larger the property the less the relationship with them. On the vast sheep stations loss is acceptable. Only when the amount of loss is financially crippling, say in times of drought or flood, does extra care become vital until the time comes for the flock to be shorn or herded into trucks to be sent to slaughter or shipped live overseas.
Children’s nursery rhymes do give us an idyllic view of sheep and lambs like the one I remember: What do you do little lamb all day? Skip in the sunshine and sleep in the hay. And lambs are sweet, gamboling about or suckling with their little tails wildly circling. I have known children on smaller farms who were given an orphan lamb to care for until it could rejoin the flock. It is a job suitable for the youngster because it aligns with a deep cultural memory that attributes innocence and purity to lambs.
Before his death in 1997 my teacher Mario Schoenmaker was known around the world for his spiritual readings. He would sit with a client and attune clairvoyantly to ‘the sound of your soul’ and interpret what he perceived in the colours of the aura. And to conclude he spoke of the Overself – a symbolic picture of the soul’s purpose at that given time. This is the symbol he gave me at our first meeting.
The Overself is a picture of the inner self. You have little lambs that you embrace, push towards the pen and symbolically your soul is saying to you that the lambs, which stand for inner qualities that have a certain beauty, a certain purity, a certain innocence, [you need to] embrace these and perceive them as pure and lead them in such a way that you can use them properly, that would be your task.
Qualities to love and nurture, to bring out, to strengthen and direct when necessary.
On the Way of the Shepherd
The traditional shepherd has disappeared from modern sheep stations and farms, giving way to multi-tasking farmers and farm workers. Where old ways endure, shepherds, often children of the family, are still significant. In first-century Palestine you would find shepherds dedicated to that employment. These shepherds spent most of their time with their flock keeping it together and serving as guardians and protectors. In the gospels we have the idealized shepherd.
Jesus offers an allegory in John 10 to depict the devoted shepherd who knows each sheep by name, and every one of them is precious. The sheep recognize their shepherd’s distinctive call and will only follow his voice. A good shepherd watches all through the warmer nights when hungry wild animals roam. For winter shelter they would use the stone-built sheep folds dotting the moorlands. And the protective door was guarded.
A thief could try to climb into the fold to steal sheep, but the gatekeeper only opens to the rightful shepherd who comes to lead his sheep out to pasture. ‘I am that door, I am the door of the sheep’ Jesus says, and also ‘I am the good shepherd’. This shepherd loves his sheep; he is no hireling who will run off at any sign of danger. The good shepherd will give his life to save his sheep, even when one strays.
And sheep can easily stray, as can our astral nature. It is our I AM that helps us to transform this tricky part of our being. I AM is our shepherd that never gives up on us.
The good shepherd exemplifies Yin qualities
The shepherd portrays the I AM qualities revealed in Jesus Christ, qualities we need to develop. But as a metaphor the male gender of the shepherd hides something vital about I AM.
From the time of the ancient Greeks there has existed the idea of a lost golden age when people lived in harmony with one another and the natural world. This is a genuine soul memory of a real way of life for ancient humanity. Beyond the many dangers of existence people did live closely attuned to nature’s cyclical rhythms, and high esteem was given to the attributes of ‘mother’ – the woman as maker of life, loving nourisher, nurturer and protector. Those earliest human cultures were gynocentric and matriarchal.
In the I AM sayings, the shepherd also embodies these feminine, yin, qualities. The feminine is part of the Christ. Yin always must balance the yang. And both are essential if we are to express Christ in us. As well as the beloved diciple Lazarus-John, two central figures fully aligned with Christ portray that balancing – Mother Mary and the disciple Mary Magdalene. I love to contemplate these unique, wondrous and love giving females. For now, I will touch on their fruitful relationship with spirit through their speaking and listening.
Two key aspects are expression and communication that are greatly enriched through a fully conscious soul. Such a soul will express the living I AM consciously and engage with the world in words that are direct, purposeful, compassion-filled and without self-seeking intent. This is a consciousness that seeks to build up the divine in others. We can be inspired by the message and by the voice itself.
To speak the language of truth and to stand by truth does require the courage to be open and vulnerable. But much of our speech is aimed at self-protection. You can hear it epitomised in the evasive answers politicians give to journalists. Or in our opinions and the efforts we make to persuade and convince others to think as we do, characteristic of identity being caught up in fixed beliefs. At times too we know we should speak and don’t, again through fear of exposure.
Yet the mighty Christ spirit that opens the way forward is urging all of us to speak from our I AM and to act upon this. Spirit, soul and body interweave in the momentum this impulse brings. I have seen that in my work with the beloved Marys.[i]
Awakening of memory
Then we have the other side of speech, silence. And we all need to embrace silence. Through silence we can hear, as Mother Mary did when she accepted the reality of the child to be born through her, and the Magdalene she did when she sat at the feet of Jesus. Yet silence is too often seen as a threat to us, an empty pit. Silence is smothered by activity and noise. But in silence is rejuvenation, the living breath. A soul attuned to I AM will rarely speak amidst the babble. This is wisdom.
In the silence spiritual beings whisper to us and direct us to the source of their words. In the stillness we may hear the voice that gives birth to intuitions held within the soul. This is remembering. In Greek myth Memory, Mnemosyne, was the child of Gaia (earth) and Ouranos (heaven) and mother of the nine muses who inspired all creative deeds.
Memory wakes when heaven meets the earth. Our soul’s experiences with the I AM, the ones Mnemosyne brings to us from the past, unite with our soul now, today. But only if we ask. And this must be our own choice uninfluenced by anything but our heart’s wish.
Soul work for contemplation
The inner journey begins with open-hearted listening imbued with Wisdom that enables us to hear the Word which tells us how to be and act in the world: Listen and know; hear and then speak.
I AM the good shepherd – May Wisdom’s guidance nurture my listening.
I AM the door of the sheep – May my speech be infused with the Word.
These are the affirmations I associate with the I AM sayings. In seeking for the personal meaning, it is helpful to ask what kind of ‘thieves’ in the astral we need to let go if I AM is to live in our souls. Here are some questions to consider. Who and what am I listening to? When have I observed the impact of my words? How do I miss the mark? What are my inner qualities? How am I expressing what is best and pure in me?
There’s more - the Lamb of sacrifice
In biblical times lambs were sacrificed to Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple at Passover, the most important Jewish feast. Why were they chosen? As animals they represented the astral of the whole community. And the learned scribes understood that this sense-based aspect of the soul must be offered up so the divine could enter. Still, the offering had to be young pure white rams without blemish for such a sacred role.
It is a strange contradiction that a creature becomes holy through its slaughter. But the ritual practice has ancient roots that go back to that Palaeolithic age when animals were precious as food and deeply revered, hence the beautifully rendered animals in cave art.
Living sacrifices would over time be debased and today such offerings to a god have thankfully almost gone. Yet a feeling for sacred offering lives in our souls and finds new expressions beyond religion. We still celebrate individuals who are willing to give of self to help and even risk their lives to save others – rescuers, firefighters, care workers, doctors and nurses on the frontline come to mind in the disastrous times we are experiencing.
The Book of Revelation (also written by John) paints a picture, in allegorical language, of heaven and earth that ‘was and is and will be’. Chapter 5 refers to the Lamb. All the beings of heaven cry, ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing.’
This Lamb is the Christ, the I AM, the mighty elohim who was the incarnated sacrifice, who died and rose again – the shepherd, who is also the sheep. Mystically we also become the sacrificial lamb when we offer up our lower self that we may hear I AM and enable the pure qualities of the divine Word to speak through us. If we are willing our soul will become the pure offering.
[i] See for example, my post ‘The Magnificent Magnificat of Mary’, November 24, 2022 & the Magalene Christianity website, Portal 3: magdalenechristianity.com