How the Barn Became a Church


Were you born in a barn? Not me, but I wish. I lived in the tiny asphalt-shingle house just south of the barn.

The barn was huge and white, with doors that rolled open wide enough that even the big tractor passed through with room to spare. There were two tall silos on the east side, and a loft with arched rafters that formed a dome high above the hay. You could climb the ladder up and build forts with the barn cats. The light that came in through small windows, diffused by dust and hay, had a way of making things look sacred, like those holy cards with prayerful saints in halos. Our barn was simply the warmest, most inviting place in the world. And much bigger than a church. What was I supposed to think?

Is this not the barn story you expected this time of year?

It isn’t everyone’s favorite holiday. Some of us have been hiding in the barn to avoid it for years. For some of us, a Hallmark commercial is enough to trigger dark memories. Not everyone is up to the effort of marketing the image of an ideal family. Some of us don’t even have human family. We might be mourning loss or just in need of a quiet place for introverts. And sometimes a barn is more welcoming to black sheep. It’s less about defending spiritual beliefs and more about finding a safe haven.

It’s that time for my annual PSA about holiday visits to the barn. You can leave the bells at home. Enough with the antler head-bands and chipper seasonal music. This barn is their home and it’s rude of us to bring our tinsel and lights and white-hot stress along. We are such agitators, waving carrots in the air and calling in high-pitched voices, as if announcing our arrival makes the party complete.

Hush. This place is sacred. We are guests here. Speak the native language and try to blend in with the herd; lick and chew. Are you ever humbled with respect for these incredible creatures? Is the sound of them eating any less holy than a Gregorian chant?

“We are all creatures of one family.” –St. Francis of Assisi

It’s okay if you got yourself a horse blanket or a new saddle pad. Maybe you brought yourself peppermint treats to give out. It’s fine; us humans get nervous if it’s too quiet. But your horse doesn’t dream of those things. He dreams of safety and peace. The equine translation of that is release.

No matter how many times we hear that horses want a smaller cue, that less is more, and that the best reward is release, we fight it. We want to give more, have more, do more. We fund studies about whether horses prefer patting or scratching, when a still hand is utterly eloquent. We still can’t believe that release–not asking for something–can be a reward. It’s almost anti-human–like they would be better off without us.

So, some of us train our horses to be needy, to fill that lack within us, as if insecurity was intelligence and fear was normal.

And some of us try it their way. We listen to their calming signals. When they avert their eyes and look away, they’re telling us that we can be less aggressive; that they mean us no harm. Listen to them. Take the cue, breathe slower, and turn your body noise down. Then wait. Ask for nothing. Give nothing. Be still and breathe with empty hands. You are enough just as you are.

What if the herd had it right all along? What if when we lay down our perceived wants and needs, our wishing and trying, we can share that Peace in Want of Nothing. Release; can we give it to ourselves?

Because in the end, all the chatter about churches or barns, inns or stables, doesn’t make a lick of difference. The message has always been Peace.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Anna Blake

0 thoughts on “How the Barn Became a Church”

  1. I totally agree! I have a wonderful family and friends (animal and human) in my life, but I find Christmas very over whelming. My husband and I (and our dog!) are renting a tiny cottage in the mountains of Wales (UK) to ‘escape’ the commercialism and get back to our roots in Nature. Love your post! xx

  2. That describes how I felt about the barn of my childhood – exactly! I never realized they were dust halos until reading your description.

    I so enjoy your blog. thank you for the great message today.

    Peace to you and yours.

  3. Anna ,
    I am reading this while sitting in my Pasteur with my mare, and it is bringing tears to my eyes. She comes to visit me, as I sit here. As you say having been told and know all that you are expressing so many times it’s hard for us to really be , no ego, no agenda, be quiet and find peace. Thank you so much .

  4. Guilty as charged! But stopped that behavior some years ago when I realized it wasn’t much appreciated…Thanks for the confirmation!

  5. “…Hush. This place is sacred. We are guests here. Speak the native language and try to blend in with the herd…” Beautiful and wise.

    Thank you for this evocative and piercingly beautiful post. At this time of year I am especially moved by, and grateful for, images and thoughts that remind us that this is the connection that’s not only possible, but crucial. It is the point of our relationship. .. in my opinion. Heartfelt thanks, Anna.

  6. You write the most wonderful things. Moving, thought provoking. Warm. On behalf of my horses, dogs, cats, and myself, thank you for your blog.

  7. This post reminds me. I’ve been wanting to write to you for some time, but have had trouble gathering my thoughts. I used to think that you and I had a lot in common, but then I read Stable Relation, and realized that the only things we have in common are our age and our love of animals, especially horses. Two women who took completely different paths to get to a very similar place. Well, at least our horse similar place. We both get joy and solace from the barn. I have always joked that horse smell is really just Prozac in the air and when you breathe it in you feel calm and content. I have learned so much from you. I think I am a different person with my horses, much because of your writing. I never stop learning about them, and just when I think I know something, they show me my ignorance. When I am struggling with one of them over something, I ask myself, what would Anna Blake do? How would she explain this behavior? Like the other day when my mare didn’t want to leave home, but reluctantly did, and then wouldn’t cross the mucky spot. Why not? She crossed fine if I walked her, would even back across it with me on the ground, would carry me across when heading toward home, would lunge circles across it with me on the ground. We were there for an hour and she never did carry me across in the away from home direction. At first I thought, I should have worn spurs. But I don’t want to hurt her to get her to take me across. I want her to carry me across because I ask her to. Maybe she just outstubborned me. I guess that’s ok. I don’t have to win every battle. Watching great horse people gives me hope. If they can get their horses to do the fantastic things they can, some day my mare will carry me across that mucky spot. We’ll go back there again some time.

    • Beth, who knows. Maybe there was a moment and then it was gone. But you know it isn’t a problem, just a bump. Thanks for reading the book, and sharing horses is a lot to have in common. Happy New Year to you and your good mare.

  8. Wow wow wow…what a beautiful “card” for the holidays. I find myself spending more time just sitting with the horses and “being.” They seem to like it. I love it. Thanks so much and happy holidays.

  9. Thank you so much, Anna, for this lovely and provocative post. I like the line, “It’s okay if you got yourself a horse blanket or a new saddle pad. Maybe you brought yourself peppermint treats to give out. It’s fine; us humans get nervous if it’s too quiet. But your horse doesn’t dream of those things. He dreams of safety and peace. The equine translation of that is release.” It’s true that if we learn to speak their language in lieu of expecting them to respond to ours, the relationship is that much richer. I shared your post on my page for a book I have called “Leadership Communication: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth”. I think my readers will enjoy your writing and your beautiful perspective on softness and quietness. I love what Nelson Mandela said: “When you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head, but when you speak in HIS language, that goes to his heart. May we always strive to speak to the heart. Thank you, Anna!

  10. Amen. I have come to almost dislike this holiday season. I get tired just thinking about it and resent the ‘have to do this and that’. This year I’m freshly home after a two week stay in a hotel 7 hours from home because my husband suffered a heart attack while on a trip. This year I will take whatever the holiday brings us because there still is an ‘us’. So if he’s up to the (delicious) dinner at his daughter’s or if it’s just the two of us by the wood stove I will embrace it with everything I have. I won’t whoop & holler to my two good mares, I’ll rest my cheek on their necks and scratch their shoulders and they’ll sigh and we’ll be at peace.

    • What a precious time; sending you my wishes for the best everything, for as long as can be. Hooray for your husband, for you, and I trust your good mares will be on duty as well. Let it all work together for all of you. Thank you, Sherry, for sharing a corner with us. We’re all on your side.

  11. Sending you a big whinny and nickers of gratitude from Cash, and my new horse, yet to be named, who will arrive tomorrow (!!!) from Tennessee from a horse sanctuary/rescue….. I’ll be spending my holidays with them, especially getting acquainted with the new fella. ….and a timely reminder from your blog to just let him be, let him settle here and know he has found Home.

      • I need to remember that even GOOD change is hard, and let the new boy feel his way into the new life here in Texas and not be fluttering around with grooming or body work or whatever… etc …. again, a timely blog for me.. you are always so articulate and your writing has synchronicity with my horse life.. This blog reminds me that a famous clinician said at a clinic “all your horse wants is peace and comfort, why don’ t you give it to him?” And I thought to myself, yes indeed, I will, but how do I do that? Some years later now I’m beginning to at least have a clue…. …

  12. Thanks again Anna for the comforting words of wisdom. By the way, do you know how to talk to rats? I am being invaded and would love to make them understand that there are better places to be than my basement! Pest control and the plumber are on the case…. Can’t wait for 2016 to come!

  13. I love your blog….so settling in a very hectic time of year. I’ve always breathed deep in nature and with animals wild or domesticated. I’ve always felt the spiritual aspect of church to be in nature. My horse is my priest I just finished reading your book….what a treat! Happy Holidays!

  14. Thanks, Anna. My little simple barn is a sacred space. My dear Spanish mare has been trying to teach me for years, but I am so thick headed. Too much “you’ve got to be the herd boss” or “boss mare” stuff. Gabriela may yet save me from myself.


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