"The Shepherd's Life" by James Rebanks - which I have just finished reading - is, somewhat unexpectedly, one of my favourite books of the last twelve months. I really enjoyed reading Rebanks' account of the life of a shepherd in the English Lake District. His family have farmed there for generations and he offers a descriptive of both the changing and unchanging aspects of that life. Earlier generations would not have got around by quad bike, but would have engaged in the same searches through the snow for lost lambs. It is not an easy life and yet, even before reading the final eight words of the book, it is very clear that this is the life for him. Those words, by the way, are - and I don't think this is a spoiler, if you haven't read it and want to - "This is my life. I want no other."
Rebanks writes of the changing seasons and their impact and carefully conveys the different challenges that come the shepherd's way. He had me there on the hillside with him more than once - and I judge that to be the mark of good writing and a good story.
But the book also reminded of the different lives that we all live and yet, as he has discovered, there is a right place and a right role for each one of us. That may take us down different paths of exploration, but the important thing is to fulfil whatever it is that is right just for us.
It, of course, also reminded me of the various ways in which shepherds, and the use of the image of the shepherd as a means of describing God to and for us, appear in the Bible. The call of Moses while looking after his father-in-law's sheep, David the shepherd boy turned king, the appearance of the heavenly choir to the shepherds in the fields, the story of that lost sheep, Jesus' describing himself as the good shepherd - all have much to say to us as we consider the call to be the church and to reflect the light and love of the one who, as the 23rd psalm has it, is my shepherd.