Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Black Beauty to my boys at nap-time. While it was favorite of mine growing up, I am now struck (read: shocked) by the repeated emphasis on right action and the dichotomy between good humans and bad humans – which seems solely to be based on action. I questioned how I even loved this story as a child; why in the world did I shed so many tears every time I read it? The story seems so full of judgment.
But then it dawned on me. I’m not afraid to admit that I began to see it at the beginning of the third part, chapter 32 (yes, 32 chapters in, I finally figured it out). I figured it out when I started tearing up and my voice cracked. I didn’t relate to the people in the book; I related to the horses, to Black Beauty. His story was becoming my story because it’s a story about judgment and love, of “No” and “Yes”.
Black Beauty was raised, initially, by the loving hands of his groomsman, John Manly, and cherished and adored by his rider. He was sold, successively, to riders and groomsman that seemed to grow more dimwitted, negligent, and downright abusive with each passing of the reigns. And at the end of this series of bad riders and groomsmen, Beauty stands at a horse-fair waiting to be sold once again.
Long strings of young horses out of the country, fresh form the marshes; and droves of shaggy little Welsh ponies, no higher than Merrylegs; and hundreds of cart horses of all sorts, some of them with the long tails braided up and tied with scarlet cord; and a good many like myself, handsome and high-bred, but fallen into the middle class through some accident or blemish, unsoundness of wind, or some other complaint…
…I was put with two or three other strong, useful-looking horses, and a good many people came to look at us. The gentlemen always turned from me when they saw my broken knees, though the man who had me swore it was only a slip in the stall.
To be measured and found wanting, to be eyed-up and declared unfit, many of us have experienced this at some point in our lives. I’m not strictly speaking of our failure to do God’s law (though, that is a big one); I’m also speaking of the judgment from the world, from others, from ourselves. We feel passed up because we’ve grown too old and too weak and seemingly useless; we feel turned away from because we’ve been wounded and scarred and bear those seemingly disfiguring marks. There’s more than that. We’ve been told we are unforgivable, unacceptable, unlovable, we’ve been told, “No,” by the simple gesture of someone turning their back to us.
Yet, we long for one not to turn their back, one to see through the exterior and the scars, we long to hear: yes, this one.
There was one man that made me think that if he would buy me I should be happy. He was not a gentleman, nor yet one of the loud, flashy sort that called themselves so. He was rather a small man, but well made, and quick in all his motions. I knew in a moment by the way he handled me, that he was used to horse. He spoke gently, and his gray eye had a kindly, cheery look in it. …He offered twenty-three pounds for me, but that was refused, and he walked away, and a very hard-looking , loud-voiced man came, I was dreadfully afraid he would have me, but he walked off.
One or two more came who did not mean business. Then the hard-faced man came back again and offered twenty-three pounds…but just then the gray eyed man came back gain. I could not help reaching out my head toward him. he stroked my face kindly.
The gas lamps were already lighted; there were streets to the right, and streets to the left, and streets crossing each other, for mile upon mile. I thought we should never come to the end of them. At last we came to a long cab stand, when my rider called out in a cheery voice, ‘Good night, Governor!’ ‘Halloo!’ cried a voice. ‘Have you got a good one?’ ‘I think so,’ replied the owner…
My owner pulled up at one of the houses and whistled. the door flew open and a young woman, followed by a little girl and boy, ran out. There was very lively greeting as my rider dismounted..The next minute they were al standing around me in a small stable yard. ‘Is he gentle, Father?’ ‘Yes, Dolly, as gentle as your own kitten; come and pat him.’ At once the little hand was patting about over my shoulder without fear. How good it felt!”
How good it feels to be loved in spite of our shortcomings, failures, weaknesses, and faults. It pierces deeply to the marrow of our being when someone says “Yes!” to us when we’ve heard countless ‘no-s’–from others even from ourselves; and this is the power of the Gospel message: God’s unconditional “Yes!” to us with no merit of our own to bring to the table. We stand like horses at a horse-fair enduring judgment, waiting for the final ‘no’ to be pronounced, waiting to be sold to the hard-faced man. Yet, it doesn’t happen. Instead, the gentle, kind, loving One comes back and we strain our heads toward Him. We come face to face with the One who has loved us first.
How good it is!