The salmon were in full summer swing in Sitka, Alaska, and author Margaret Feinberg was busy caring for her aunt’s bed and breakfast giving her relative a much-needed break.
While serving up scones along with the usual morning chit-chat with the guests, Feinberg asked a visitor from Oregon what line of work she was in.
“I’m a shepherdess,” Lynne, the guest responded.
“Uh what?” Feinberg asked.
“I have more than a dozen Shetland sheep that I breed and care for,” said the former executive.
And so ensued the conversation that would lead Feinberg to pen “Scouting the Divine: My search for God in wine, wool and wild honey”–part devotional, part travelogue, retracing her footsteps as she set out to learn about ancient livelihoods that illuminate meaningful biblical truths.
Along the way, she nestled with sheep (the one animal mentioned a bazillion times in the Bible) while working alongside the shepherdess in Oregon, she walked the fields with a farmer in Nebraska, picked grapes with a vintner in California and studied the intricacies of a bee colony with a beekeeper in Colorado.
“‘Scouting the Divine’ tells the story of my attempt to understand some of the nuanced brushstrokes in the portraits of God that I’ve glanced past all my life,” says Feinberg.
“It’s an intentional search for ways to move from reading the Bible to entering stories that can be touched, tasted, heard, seen, smelled and savored. Scripture is sweetness and sweat, bitterness and blood, tremors and tears. Scripture is life – and we are called to live it,” she writes in “Scouting the Divine.”
After traipsing through knee deep “mudpoo” in a sheep’s pasture and having her heart touched by a seriously sick sheep named Piaget, Feinberg gained new insights to familiar biblical texts.
“I knew Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, but I never knew what that meant until I spent time with sheep,” she says.
“Born in a stable, Jesus entered the ‘mudpoo’ of our world for one reason and one reason alone, love. That ingredient alone, love, is what makes a shepherd good, even great. Seeing the love Lynne had for her sheep–from the ornaments that decorated her house to the tender care of Piaget–was a small but startling reflection of the love of God,” she adds.
Feinberg’s search for God in wine, wool and wild honey includes a stop in Napa Valley, Calif., one that would open her eyes to a fresh perspective on Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine.
“My time among the vineyards really challenged my perception and appreciation of God. Before I travelled to Napa, I didn’t realize just how much went into planting and cultivating a vineyard. I didn’t think about the time it took to prepare the soil the three years that would pass before a vintner saw his first real viable clusters of grapes,” Feinberg explains.
“Most vintners don’t bring in a harvest until year four, and many won’t open their first bottle of wine until year eight. And many won’t reach a breakeven point for their investment until year 15, 18 or beyond. Or that a well-cared for vineyard can continue to produce a harvest for 40 or 50 years or more,” she adds.
Feinberg learned that anyone can plant a crop, but someone who chooses to plant a vineyard is thinking long-term.
“They’re committed to the land,” she says. “They know they have to keep an eye on the vine – pruning it season after season – to produce a fruitful harvest.”
Feinberg continues, “So when Jesus says in John 15, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches and my father is the vinedresser,’ Jesus isn’t taking a short-term approach.
“He’s hinting at the long-term perspective that God has for you and I.”
Feinberg says, “Sometimes I look at my own life and wonder, why am I not more fruitful? And why does pruning have to hurt so much? Yet those questions circle around the here and now. God’s perspective is much different. Like a good vineyard owner, he knows how to bring about fruitfulness better than I ever will. And He is patient with me, more patient that I am with myself.”
As a child, Feinberg’s mother kept beehives, instilling a lifelong love of honey in her. As an adult, spending time with a beekeeper would not only introduce her to 300 types of honey, but she would inherit a profound spiritual lesson.
“In a hive, there are basically three types of bees,” Feinberg explains. “A single queen bee who lays eggs all day every day, drones that fertilize the queen and female worker bees.
“During the three years of her life, a queen can lay more than 1 million eggs. During the height of breeding season she can lay 3,000 eggs in a single day – that’s more than her bodyweight.
Meanwhile, the worker bees fulfill all kinds of duties including gathering nectar, pollen and water for the hive,” Feinberg continues.
“They tend to the queen, take care of the eggs, seal the honey and build the honeycomb. Some bees’ sole purpose is just to protect the hive from thieves and invaders,” she adds.
“Spending time with the beekeeper left me in awe of God’s design in nature. Something as tiny as bee is intricately and carefully designed. It raises the question, if God took so much care in designing a colony of wild bees, how much more does he take with you and I?”
From oceanside to mountains
Feinberg has written, co-written or ghostwritten more than 35 books. She was born in Melbourne and raised in Merritt Island, Fla. Her father was a large part of the surfing industry in Cocoa Beach, owning Oceanside Surf Shop.
“My father is Jewish, and he came to recognize Jesus as the Messiah right before I was born. I was raised in a Christian home with hues of Judaism, and at the end of the day I make a great bowl of matzo ball soup,” she says.
“I became a Christian as a kid. I was the one who would go forward for every alter call – just in case. One day my Christian elementary school teacher said, ‘Margaret, you don’t have to keep coming up here at every alter call.’ Oh – I had no idea!” she says.
Currently living in Colorado, Feinberg lived in Alaska for five years, where she met and married a 6-foot 8-inch tall Alaskan named Leif.
For more information, visit MargaretFeinberg.com.