The Spirituality of Ferdinand the Bull
“Only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear” (Joseph Pieper)
There was once a bull named Ferdinand. He was different than the other bulls. His friends all liked to fight and tumble. Ferdinand just wanted to sit and smell the flowers. One day, a bee stung Ferdinand and the bull roared and bellowed, kicked and stamped. Onlookers goggled, “What a fierce bull!” So they brought him to the bullfight. The trumpets blew, the shouts resounded, but Ferdinand was distracted. He just gazed around at the pretty flowers in the ladies’s hats: “What fragrance. What beauty.” The banderilleros and picadors were dismayed. They rushed Ferdinand away and left him in his pasture. He is there today, sitting under a tree, happily smelling the flowers. There is a spirituality to Ferdinand the Bull which we must all learn to adopt.
“They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (Matthew 7:32-35).
We are that deaf man. We are deaf because of our distractions. God created us to enjoy constant communion with him. Every morning, God tells the sun to rise and it rises. He tells the flowers to open and they open. The birds sing because they adore God. The trees grow because they reach for God. This is not anthropomorphic poetry. The scriptures describe the entire universe as obeying, worshipping, and cherishing God. Only humanity is cut off.
“[The godly man is] like a tree planted by the waterside, that will bring forth his fruit in due season…[The ungodly] are like the chaff, which the wind scattereth away from the face of the earth” (Psalm 1:3-5).
Nothing separates us from God so much as distraction. Here is how one monk puts it: “The human mind, created in a state of rest, became agitated and distracted when it fell from grace…Forgetting God and grasping at the world, we become subject to unhealthy desires and addictive behaviors, driven by a continuous preoccupation with and pursuit of nothing… Habitually surrendering…the mind becomes enslaved” (Fr. Maximus Constas). St. Symeon echoes this: “To the extent that our inner life is in a state of discord and dispersed among many contrary things,” to the extent that we are distracted, “we are unable to participate in the life of God.”
In other words, we are like dogs chasing our tails. We are like ostriches, with our heads buried in sand. We are not enough like Ferdinand the Bull, contemplating truth and beauty.
“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity, a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
Rather than Ferdinand the Bull, we are like the frog in boiling water. Cell phones, video games, television, the news…all this is so normal to us. It is profoundly abnormal. Humanity was not designed for so much distraction. “[Lingering] in a realm of illusions; mesmerized by the images flitting about on our computer screens,” Fr. Maximos Constas lectures, “We become ‘dull, predatory flies buzzing on the chamber winder,’ desperate to consume all the futility of the world”. It is 2021. This is Aldous Huxley’s “brave new world.”
“He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened’” (Mark 7. 33-34).
Now let’s talk about being Christian. In particular, let’s talk about Ferdinand the Bull. All the other bulls were caught up in the noise of the world. Beauty was all around them, but they were too busy to notice. Indeed, in their furor and excitement, they trampled down the flowers they never noticed. Ferdinand was different. He was still. In his stillness, he discovered the important thing. Ferdinand was not lazy. No, he was active. He chose the life of contemplation.
Jesus Christ had compassion on the deaf and mute man. He took the man away from the crowd. He took him to a place of quiet and solitude, and in that quiet and solitude, he healed him. This is how Jesus heals us today. He invites us to step out of the noise.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion" (Luke 10:42). Martha was like the rest of the bulls. She was like us in the 21st century, anxious and fretting. Mary was like Ferdinand. She slowed down and found rest with Jesus Christ.
In 1998, the philosopher, Joseph Pieper, wrote a book called “Leisure: The Basis of Culture.” He grew up in post-WWII Germany — talk about a culture struggling to get back on its feet. The nation succeeded. They pulled themselves out of economical and psychological devastation and became a first world country. But something was missing: the soul of the culture. Pieper saw this same emptiness in all modern civilizations. With our skyscrapers and industries, we left out the main thing: a life focused around truth, goodness, and beauty.
Leisure, the Greek word for contemplation, is the heartbeat of traditional Christian living. It is not laziness. It is intentional living. It means being still and quiet, enjoying simple, natural beauty, and resting your heart in prayer. Pieper writes: “When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep. Or as the Book of Job says, ‘God giveth songs in the night’ (Job 35:10)…It is in these silent and receptive moments that the soul of man is sometimes visited by an awareness of what holds the world together.”
Step out of the crowd with Jesus. Schedule your lives around the services of Church and the calls to prayer. Leisure means turning off the violent and angry media, and reading your bible. Leisure means watching less television, and sitting on your porch with ice tea. Our culture is pagan. We are called to be Christian, and only the Christian lives the good life.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
I used to think this was just a sentimental verse, you know, the kind you see hanging embroidered on the wall. It makes you smile, and then you forget it and get back to “real life.” There is nothing sentimental here. This verse sums up the whole Christian philosophy. It is our way of life. Before we do anything, we need to ask: “Is it true? Is it pure? “Is it wholesome?” If it is not, throw it away. The Christian is called to a different life.
‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (Matthew 7:32-35).
It is time to become a little bit more like Ferdinand the Bull. Christ came to clear our heads. He invites us out of the crowd. If we follow, we will be healed.