Some days lessons lie around every corner. Browsing a used book store recently, I happened upon a book of Eastern European fairy tales. It includes a story called "God's Cock." This title delights me. As both a chicken enthusiast and as a gay man, I find the idea of God's cock, um, divine.
According to the Serbian fable recounted in the book, God sees the earth is barren and sends a cock to make it livable. Right away, this divinely empowered rooster rolls a powerful egg out of a cave. The egg cracks. Out of it flow seven rivers to water the earth and make of it a paradise. The landscape grows lush, green. Animals arrive, and people.
God's cock watches over the human beings. He spreads his wings over the earth. He crows at regular intervals. He wakens the people at sunrise, signals mealtimes, work times, when to rest, when to sleep.
For me, a cock's crow represents one of the joys of country living. But not everyone feels this way. The people in this story grow tired of listening to God's cock. They want to make their own decisions about how to order their days. They pray God to remove the offending creature. God answers their prayers and banishes the Great Rooster in the Sky from paradise.
Before he leaves, the cock flies down and crows this warning, "Beware the ocean!"
Alarmed, the people send a watchman to the top of a nearby mountain to keep an eye out for the ocean they've been warned against. There is no ocean to be seen, but the watchman dutifully trudges up the mountain every day.
Without God's cock to wake them up and keep them on track, the people eventually grow lazy, bitter, mean and greedy. In the end—their end—they bring about the destruction of their own paradise.
They break wide open the divine chicken egg. They don't want to lug water from here to there. They figure if they break the egg, water will flow evenly all over the land, no need to carry it from the rivers.
At first this seems to work. But the water keeps coming and coming until it forms an ocean in which they all drown. Their own greed destroys them. The danger is within. The sole survivor is the watchman on the mountain.
I shudder as I finish the story. My own nation courts ecological disaster, races through natural resources like there is no tomorrow. Maybe there won't be. Every day I do my part to chip away at the egg. What am I thinking?
This is one way I read the story.
On another level, the story says to me, "God sent you a cock for a reason. Listen to what it has to say. Pay attention."
For many years I lived as if I didn't have a cock, as if what I had between my legs had nothing to say to me. Sure, it grew hard at the thought of men, but I discounted and ignored the implications of this message. I knew what church, mother and wife demanded of me. Why should I listen to what some cock has to say? I chose to suppress, deny, go numb/dumb. The enemy is within.
And don't think the matter has been settled entirely in my favor. I continue to wrestle with a strong streak of repression.
Hearing this, a friend tells me he faces the opposite challenge. "My problem is I think with my little head instead of my big one," he says. "I recently had a breakthrough. I've committed myself to slow down, breathe and think with my big head before taking any action."
We are all different. Maybe this is why one of the two admonitions scribed on the temple of Apollo was, "Know thyself." Maybe this is why the other was, "In all things, moderation."
Maybe this is why we are gifted with bodies—and cocks—and good books in the first place. Do we know? Can we listen? Will we understand?