Barnyard lessons lead to prayer

Columnist Judith Costello’s cat and a chicken dine together in her family’s barnyard.

By Judith Costello

Going out to the barnyard is a twice-a-day duty at our house. It occurs to me that the obligatory nature of it is similar to our obligation to pray every day. Sometimes it is taken for granted and becomes just that — an obligation.  It is always important to look again.

Yesterday, as I headed through the rusty gate out into the dusty field, I was struck by the beauty of it all. The chickens were running in the dirt along the front of our sagging barn. One orange hen, then a few paces behind was a black one, then came another orange hen, with a brown hen trailing behind. They were running away from the male duck. The hens created a pretty pattern of color and life.

Every day God paints miracles for those who have eyes to see.

The mallard has female duck companions, but he’d rather chase the hens around. When he catches them he tries to create “chucks.” Silly bird. He doesn’t appreciate the family he has. God calls us to look again and appreciate how he has blessed our lives.


We sent a photo of our barnyard to friends back East. They were awed by the vastness of it which made us see it again. The photo showed the kids in the pasture which has turned to blowing dirt in this drought time of New Mexico’s summer.  But the field extends a long way and in the distance are horses and mountains and a big orange sky. 

Every day God paints new miracles.

As I entered the chicken coop one of the hens rushed to greet me while the others went about their business as if my food offering was something that should fall from the sky on their command. It reminded me of the Israelites in the desert. Moses would go to greet the Lord with reverence and respect, but the people began to take God’s gifts for granted. For 40 years they received water from rocks and manna from heaven. They were guided by a cloud column and saw the glow of God on the mountainside.

And still their offerings of praise and thanksgiving became obligatory. And from obligation and a sense of entitlement, they moved into self-importance, rebellion and rejection.

God calls us back to him by offering wake-up calls in the everyday experiences.

The chicken that came to greet me ran between my legs as I tried to shut her back into the coop. “Hey,” I called out. “It’s time to go in your house!” 

That white hen was fast. She was already darting between the hay barn doors. As I entered, the chicken was jabbing at pieces of cat food. Our calico cat had her head near the food dish. But the chicken assumed control. Although the cat had been eating, when the hen entered, Kitty had to surrender control or face a swift beak!

Why do we call people who are scared “chicken”?  Chickens are not scared. The hen fought and won a quick battle over the food bowl. 

Putting myself in the cat’s place, I was reminded that we humans only like to think we are in charge. But God is the giver of life and abundance; yet that can change at any moment. We are not to take his gifts for granted.

The wake-up calls of the barnyard remind me that prayer is not just an obligation…it is an opportunity to be awed!

(Judith Costello is a freelance writer who grew up in Davenport and now lives in rural New Mexico. Her Web site is

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