My friend Stephenie gave me an English version of the Koran and I keep it on the table so I can read a little every day over breakfast. Today I came across the most interesting passage about cows. It is in Surah 16, verses 5-6.
5. And the cattle, He has created them for you; in them there is warmth and numerous benefits, and of them you eat.
6. And wherein is beauty for you, when you bring them home in the evening, and as you lead them forth to pasture in the morning.
My common-sense husband said, when I read him the verses, “Unless you’re the cowherd who has to slog all that way in their dung.” He didn’t say “dung” actually, but close enough.
So that got me thinking, and the first verse from my own scripture that came to mind was, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” Isaiah 55: 8.
Those of us who slog through cow dung all day in our worldly lives may not see beauty in a herd of cows. They are not beautiful to us but practical. Now horses we might spend time staring at, enjoying their beauty, but cows not so much. I have seen much-prized paintings of horses hung on museum walls, but not many cows, unless they were small figures in the distance, scattered across some bucolic landscape.
Which brings me to the artist’s view. Artists can see beauty in lots of things the ordinary person can’t. Shipwrecks, alleyways, ugly old people, forest fires, battles, and suffering. Somehow the artist can take something we don’t like to look at and transform it into something we do. The artist’s thoughts are not our thoughts.
Then I thought, how is the artist like God? First off, the artist creates something from nothing—just an idea. Some artists, like writers and poets, use words to call that idea into reality, just like God did. Others use simple things like paint, clay, and fabrics to realize their vision. We know from the Bible that God worked with those things, too.
Maybe God sees beauty in cows going in and out of the barn because he is seeing them from afar. They would make a nice pattern of moving variegated creatures against the green grass, as seen from above. But God is also immanent, right down here with us in the details. So God sees the beauty in the details of cows (which he made, so he knows all their parts and systems), and artists do that, too. Have you ever seen one of those abstract paintings or photographs of a tiny detail blown up the size of a large canvas? The color, shape, and pattern appeal to us. We can see the beauty.
Artists can look down from God’s perspective in their imaginations. And who built those imaginations into artists? Right. Imagination gives artists a perspective like God’s in some ways—they see beauty everywhere. And they try to make us see it, too.
Artists, then, are like prophets. They try to open the eyes of people to the reality of God’s love for us. They point out the marvels of the Creation, the marvels of imagination. They try to make us appreciate what we have. They warn us not to take beauty for granted, to value it, to be grateful for it.
Thank you, God, for cows, artists and prophets. Truly, you are full of kindness, most merciful.