Brooks became an Episcopal priest in 1860. As a rector in Philadelphia, he was one of the most influential abolitionists of the Civil War.

When the war ended in 1865, Brooks made a journey across the Atlantic to see Europe and the Middle East.

He took in some of the continent’s most impressive sites, including the cathedrals and landmarks of London, Rome and the Vatican. But it was the Holy Land that sparked some of his most enduring inspirations.

While in Palestine on Christmas Eve, he and his fellow travelers saddled up some horses and rode into the remote town of Bethlehem.

Nestled on a ridge of hills, with terraced gardens and an assembly of various churches, the town felt frozen in time, a short distance from Jerusalem, surrounded by pastures filled with sheep.


Bethlehem still felt like the sacred stage of the nativity recorded centuries before, when shepherds keeping watch over their flocks were the first to hear the angels proclaim the arrival of a newborn king.

Brooks returned home to his own flock, but the scene stayed with him. A few years later, it inspired him to write the verses of a Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

With music written by a member of his congregation, the carol quickly became an American favorite, which it remains today.

That story could be a Christmas message unto itself. But it was another of Brooks’ sermons that recently caught my attention.

The message has greater relevance this Christmas in the aftermath of the Atlas storm that wrought such a heavy toll on producers in South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming.

“Do not pray for easy lives,” Brooks wrote. “Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers.

Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”

To experience so much devastation from one mid-autumn winter storm, like the chaos that Atlas sent through South Dakota and its neighboring states, would seem to be the furthest example of a miracle.

But what producers in that region have proven is how miracles become real in everyday lives.

Through the power of work, resilience, determination, faith, hope and charity, great tasks are accomplished in the service of others.

We can pray for relief, comfort and love to be manifest from God’s hands. But most answers to our prayers are manifest by others seeking to lift another’s burdens in an hour of great need.

In our coverage of the Atlas storm in this issue, you’ll read about producers not just working miracles, but being the miracle themselves.

This Christmas, here’s hoping that we remember the power to do the same lies inside each of us.  end mark


David Cooper
Progressive Cattleman magazine