Eight maids a-milking . . . a very homely sort of image.
Tradition connects this image with the eight beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5), blessed are those who are: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering for righteousness, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for his sake.
These images may not be homely, but Jesus is not using soaring rhetoric. Most people find them puzzling, if not impossible. But maybe this is the connection: milking a cow, you have to get humbly close to the ground, and use just the right hand motion while watching out that the cow neither swats you with her tail or kicks you.
Today also is the final day of Kwanzaa, in which we observe Imani (ee-MAH-nee) or faith that focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best in ourselves, and helps us strive for a higher level of life for humankind, by affirming our self-worth and confidence in our ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.
The beatitudes are surely recipes for living from within the best in ourselves–our nonviolent, loving, caring, God-trusting impulses–and to do so as part of just and honorable living.
As we go into 2010, perhaps these images of maids milking and Jesus teaching can help us get the most out of life.