RATTUS BEATUS

It is not much fun being a rat. Everyone hates rats. You lot burble on about universal love, but you are allowed to hate rats.

There is only one lovable rat in all of your literature – adorable Ratty in Wind in the Willows. And shall I tell you something? He is not a rat. He is a water vole – with a squat face, a stubby furry tail and ridiculous little ears. Pah!

You have made the very word “rat” into a sort of universal insult. A loose woman, a dishonest man, a liar, a snitch, any devious sneaking individual. And I bet you think you know that it was mean, filthy, malevolent rats who infected you all with the bubonic plague – even though some decent and fair-minded human scientists are beginning to believe that this is not necessarily true.

It is hard having everyone hate you, and especially hard when it so unfair: it’s unfair because we run round your stupid mazes to help you with your stupid research.

It’s unfair because we make excellent, responsive and loving pets.

It’s unfair because we self-groom at least three times a day, while you all seem to think that one shower is more than enough.

It’s unfair because we are famously intelligent, while also gentle and affectionate.

It’s unfair because we are good parents.

What’s your problem?

So yes it is hard. And, let me tell you, it is hardest of all at Christmas. The crucial role we played that night in Bethlehem is entirely ignored. And if you don’t believe me, go to Google Images and search for “Nativity paintings”. Believe me there are lots and lots, there are indeed millions, of them. And in a very large number of these paintings there are animals. In fact there are an extraordinary number and variety of animals. You start of course with the sheep but move on fast: cows and goats and donkeys and mules and horses; both Bactrians and dromedaries (two- and one-humped camels to you) and dogs and pigs and a rather strange selection of deer. There are lions and cats and a diverse array of birds. There are foxes and bears and wolves and elephants. There are kangaroos for heaven’s sake – I suppose they just hopped across from the Antipodes.

But no rats. None. We have been excluded, discriminated against, written out, diminished, despised and dismissed. And it is not fair.

Think about it for a moment. Here you have a stable – a fairly basic building with a manger in it – pretty near to the pub in a small rural town in the Middle East, 2,000 years ago. There is probably a caravanserai nearby, because there nearly always is, which inevitably means food waste and human waste. There are no public washing facilities, or even closed toilets. The streets are pretty full and pretty restless at the time because of this census thing that is going on, but the shed is tucked away quietly in a back corner. Now, take a deep breath – what wild animal are you most likely to find there? Go on – try to think honestly and face the facts.

Frankly the correct answer is rather more likely to be rats than peacocks or gazelles. It’s a no-brainer.

And, no surprise, we were indeed there. Which is more than can be said for the penguins and leopards and giraffes and company ltd. who have snuck into the pictures since.

It was pretty disruptive at first, as you can imagine. We had just got our five tucked up for the night, all snuggled in straw in the manger. They were just coming up to a month old so they were all grumpy adolescence – no we do not have acne, but we do have hormones, believe you me – and full of overexcitement and cheek and know-it-all swagger. The pubescent rat has quite a lot to swagger about, to be honest, but the weary rat parents can do without it when you are trying to get them to bed and all of a sudden your space is invaded by a whole lot of silliness. You may have noticed how much drama humans are capable of making about getting babies; it is not that difficult, you know. They could take some lessons from us on this as well as other things if they so chose – but oh no.

Well, if they really cared so much you would have thought some of those fat rich blokes could have made some space in the inn for that poor woman: they did not need to send a whole lot of grumbling servants to hang around grouching about moving the horses and mules out into the yard and winding up our little ones. We certainly did not need those two naggy old ladies complaining that no one understood what women had to go through and men were so selfish … and … and … and …

Then after all that palaver he carried her in.

And then … but it is too hard to explain. She was … well she was lovely, but that was not really the point. And she was so tired, you could see she was exhausted before she even began on her weary night’s work, but that was not really the point either. I don’t know how to say it. I want to say that she was like a rat, but you all hate rats so that will not help you understand. But she was like a rat – she was sharply attentive to her task; she was alert, intelligent about the business, concentrated – as calm as she could be, able to bide her time, still and focused, hard-working.

It is not a pretty thing, birthing a baby, but like a rat she brought her whole self to it and made it beautiful. She was graceful somehow; full of grace in her body and in her mind. It is harder for humans to do the birthing work than it is for us rats – our babies have smaller heads and more pointy noses, and actually despite the various other unfair advantages bipedalism makes birthing harder. It is probably a good thing that you usually only have one at a time. But don’t let anyone tell you that it is easy. She did not make it easy, but she did make it graceful.

We kept quiet; we lurked behind a sort of log-pile in a corner and we watched. I doubt they even knew we were there. And eventually, perhaps soon after midnight, the baby was born. I do not really have a thing about small human babies, they seem sort of floppy and naked and moderately useless, but as neonatal humans go this one was rather sweet – all scrunched up with an absurd tuft of black fur on its head and little wrinkled hands and very silly feet. The young man wrapped it up, I have to say rather clumsily, in some long strips of cloth one of the old women produced for them; and then she fed it like you do and handed it back to her man. They were both smiling, but it was fairly clear that he hadn’t the least idea what to do with a baby in a shed in the middle of the night. He just stood there looking a bit awkward and uncertain.

And then I heard a funny scratchy noise and I looked round and there were our five climbing solemnly out of the manger and scuttling silently across the floor towards some loose straw. But I think he must have heard something, because he glanced up and when he saw the manger he looked relieved, went over and put the wee baby in it. I will not deny that I was proud – for all their carry on and talkback, they could see what needed doing and then do it. Just what any decent parent hopes for.

So then there was a little peace and she curled up and went to sleep and he covered her with a cloak – and it was dark and sweet. But it did not last long. All of a sudden the barn was full of people – someone said they were shepherds though my personal view remains that they were all drunks. What a carry on. And no, for your information, they did not bring any lambs with them: it was December, midwinter for heaven’s sake – there aren’t any lambs in December: everyone knows that. They did not even bring any sheep. Who wants to be bringing sheep off the hill in the middle of the night? Do have some sense.

Eventually they push off and it is all quiet again. The young couple sleep wrapped in each other’s arms; there is a huge star overhead, so there’s some light, but gentle as it were. And then it began to get cold. I don’t know if you have ever been in the desert, but at night it can get really surprisingly cold; apparently clouds keep the heat in and there do not tend to be many of those in a desert. It began to get cold – and we started to feel anxious about the baby.

I thought about waking the parents, but they were so tired and sleeping so deeply and sweetly … however it is not good for newborns to be cold, so in the end my partner just climbed into the manger and snuggled up to the child. He was too young to respond in any way – human babies are pretty slow as you may know, but you could see him totally relaxed, his head against her ribcage and her lovely fluffy fur warm against him. Rather sweet really.

Later the young couple woke and he got up and came to get the baby for her to feed. I was anxious for a moment, because on the whole humans tend to freak out when they see rats at all, let alone rats cuddled up with their child. But not him. He smiled, with a deep sort of amusement, scratched the back of her neck with one finger and said, “Thank you.” And he meant it.

That’s it really. But you can see why we resent the fact that we are never in the paintings, never acknowledged or praised or thanked. I know rats are not always sweetness and light, but – let me tell you – nor are sheep, mules, camels or dogs. Nor are humans; especially not humans.

This is a deep ancient story for us rats. We teach it to our children and carry it with us when we travel. We want to remember it, but also we want humans, and others, to remember it – we are like you really, we don’t always behave well but we always want to be loved. Is that such a big ask?

A while back we thought we might go for canonisation – if all those popes and neurasthenic virgins can be saints surely that mother rat could be too? Apart from being owed, frankly, we also sort of thought it might be a way of boosting our public image. And after all, worldwide, there are considerably more rats than Catholics.

But then we discovered the cost. The boss guy in Rome says he wants to limit what you can pay to get someone canonised to €100,000. Unbelievable. It is not that we cannot afford it – believe me. Two billion rats could raise that much overnight. Easily. That is not the issue. It is just too much money.

The World United Rat Committee is making a voluntary donation of €100,000 to maternity services in the Third World. We think that is a better way to celebrate Christmas.

Source:  “Rattus Beatus” by Sara Maitland in The Tablet
21/28 December 2019, pages 31-32

 

CONSIDER THIS

“Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the centre, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the centre of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God.”

Dorotheus of Gaza, a sixth-century monk

THE MUSIC COMING FROM THE HOUSE

On Christmas Eve, the king invited the prime minister to join him for their usual walk together. He enjoyed seeing the decorations in the streets, but since he didn’t want his subjects to spend too much money on these just to please him, the two men always disguised themselves as traders from some far distant land.

They walked through the centre of the city, admiring the lights, the Christmas trees, the candles burning on the steps of the houses, the stalls selling gifts, and the men, women and children hurrying off to celebrate a family Christmas around a table laden with food.

On the way back, they passed through a poorer area, where the atmosphere was quite different. There were no lights, no candles, no delicious smells of food about to be served. There was hardly a soul in the street, and, as he did every year, the king remarked to the prime minister that he really must pay more attention to the poor in his kingdom. The prime minister nodded, knowing that the matter would soon be forgotten again, buried beneath the day-to-day bureaucracy of budgets to be approved and discussions with foreign dignitaries.

Suddenly, they heard music coming from one of the poorest houses. The hut was so ramshackle and the rotten wooden timbers so full of cracks, that they were able to peer through and see what was happening inside. And what they saw was utterly absurd: an old man in a wheelchair apparently crying, a shaven-headed young woman dancing, and a young man with sad eyes shaking a tambourine and singing a folk song.

‘I’m going to find out what they’re up to,’ said the king.

He knocked. The music stopped, and the young man came to the door.

‘We are merchants in search of a place to sleep. We heard the music, saw that you were still awake, and wondered if we could spend the night here.’

‘You can find shelter in a hotel in the city. We, alas, cannot help you. Despite the music, this house is full of sadness and suffering.’

‘And may we know why?’

‘It’s all because of me.’ It was the old man in the wheelchair who spoke. ‘I’ve spent my life teaching my son calligraphy, so that he could one day get a job as a palace scribe. But the years have passed and no post has ever come up. And then, last night, I had a stupid dream: an angel appeared to me and asked me to buy a silver goblet because, the angel said, the king would be coming to visit me. He would drink from the goblet and give my son a job.

‘The angel was so persuasive that I decided to do as he said. Since we have no money, my daughter-in-law went to the market this morning to sell her hair so that we could buy that goblet over there. The two of them are doing their best to get me in the Christmas spirit by singing and dancing, but it’s no use.’

The king saw the silver goblet, asked to be given a little water to quench his thirst and, before leaving, said to the family:

‘Do you know, we were talking to the prime minister only today, and he told us that an opening for a palace scribe would be announced next week.’

The old man nodded, not really believing what he was hearing, and bade farewell to the strangers. The following morning, however, a royal proclamation was read out in all the city streets; a new scribe was needed at court. On the appointed day, the audience room at the palace was packed with people eager to compete for that much-sought-after post. The prime minister entered and asked everyone there to prepare their paper and pens:

‘Here is the subject of the composition: Why is an old man weeping, a shaven-headed woman dancing, and a sad young man singing?’

A murmur of disbelief went round the room. No one knew how to tell such a story, apart, that is, from the shabbily dressed young man sitting in one corner, who smiled broadly and began to write.

Source | Paolo Coelho, Christmas Stories
Sant Jordi Asociados (December 5, 2014)

CONSIDER THIS

Many things come to pass when we least expect them and in ways we have never imagined!

JUST SHINE

When my daughter was small she got the dubious part of the Bethlehem star in a Christmas play. After her first rehearsal she burst through the door with her costume, a five-pointed star lined in shiny gold tinsel designed to drape over her like a sandwich board.

“What exactly will you be doing in the play?” I asked her.

“I just stand there and shine,” she told me.

Source | Sue Monk Kidd, When The Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions
(HarperOne 2006) page 61 

 CONSIDER THIS

  • The little girl gets it.  At some point, from Star of Bethlehem to adulthood, we obstruct that light.
  • What is stopping you from just standing there and shine? I started my own list of possible obstructors : fear, perfectionism, prejudice, comparisons, lack of healthy self-esteem, distractions, worry, anxiety …

THE CHRISTMAS SCALE

My mama told me something when I was growing up that has for ever change my life. She played the piano at our little church at third and pine street for thirty seven years. She tried to teach me to play the piano, but I wasn’t very good. She would teach me the names of the notes, what a major key is, what a minor key is.  She tried to teach me musical theory but I was just bored.

Then one day she told me that the best news in the world is found by playing a simple scale on the piano. I had no idea what she meant. So she told me, “Play an eight note scale.” So I did. (Playing notes going up the scale C D E F G A B C sounds like “do re me fa sol la si do”)

I said, “How is that good news?”

She said I played it incorrectly and that I needed to play it the other way. So I did. (Playing notes going down the scale “do si la sol fa mi re do.”)

Again, I said, “How is that good news?”

She said that I played it the right way, but I needed to add the pauses.

“The pauses?”

“The pauses. Add them on the first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh and last note.”

Now I was frustrated and said, “How can eight notes with random pauses be the best news in the world?” Then I got up, walked away and went outside.  Frankly I didn’t care what she was talking about.  I didn’t like playing the piano anyway.

Well, years later my mama got sick and passed away.  As I was thinking about her I remembered what she told me about the piano.

Not only that, I still remembered the notes she told me to pause on : the first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh and last note. So I sat down at her piano and played the scale with the pauses. (With pauses plays the song “Joy to the World, the Lord is come.”)

And that’s when I realized the good news she was talking about.

Source | Transcript of The Christmas Scale by IgniterMedia.com

CONSIDER THIS

The message hasn’t changed. That joy is still there waiting to be experienced each time we awake from our slumber and play the right notes with the right pauses, living our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways, that is, with gentility and grace, presence and wakefulness.

DON’T GET TOO ATTACHED

Little Alice was captivated with the stories of Jesus, especially the eventual death of Jesus on the cross.  And she was overjoyed when she was chosen to be an angel in the school nativity play.  She learned her lines to perfection.

However, little Alice was known to add her own logic to every situation.  So the nativity play was well under way and when it was Alice’s turn to say her lines to Mary, she said: “Don’ t worry, Mary, you will have a lovely baby and you will call him Jesus.”  Then she added, “But I wouldn’t get too attached to him because he’ll be gone by Easter.”

Source | Unknown

PONDER AND CONSIDER

As one year ends and another one starts, let’s ponder all the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of our own lives.  And in doing so prayerfully and playfully …  pondering … reflecting … reviewing and perhaps even reframing our lived realities, let’s not get too attached to any of the past chapter of our ever unfolding, unique, sacred biography.  All past chapters are only stepping stones that gently move us forward with courage and wisdom, hope and wild imagination into the new year.

 

THE PARABLE OF THE BIRDS

Once upon a time there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn’t a Scrooge. He was a kind and decent person, generous to his family, upright in all his dealings with other men. But he didn’t believe all that stuff about Incarnation which churches proclaim at Christmas. And he was too honest to pretend that he did. “I am truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, who was a faithful churchgoer. “But I simply cannot understand this claim that God becomes man. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

On Christmas Eve his wife and children went to church for the midnight service. He declined to accompany them. “I’d feel like a hypocrite,” he explained. “I’d rather stay at home. But I’ll wait up for you.”

Shortly after his family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window and watched the flurries getting heavier and heavier. “If we must have Christmas,” he thought, “it’s nice to have a white one.” He went back to his chair by the fireside and began to read his newspaper. A few minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. It was quickly followed by another, then another.

He thought that someone must be throwing snowballs at his livingroom window. When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the storm. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through his window. “I can’t let these poor creatures lie there and freeze,” he thought. “But how can I help them?” Then he remembered the barn where the children’s pony was stabled. It would provide a warm shelter.

He put on his coat and galoshes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the door wide and turned on a light. But the birds didn’t come in. “Food will lure them in,” he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn. To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around and waving his arms. They scattered in every direction – except into the warm lighted barn.

“They find me a strange and terrifying creature,” he said to himself, “and I can’t seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me. If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety. . . .”

Just at that moment the church bells began to ring. He stood silent for a while, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Then he sank to his knees in the snow. “Now I do understand,” he whispered. “Now I see why You had to do it.” 

Source | Louis Cassels,  The Parable of the Birds as told in Greg Johnson, The 25 Days of Christmas,  pages 30-31

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • They shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” | Matthew 1:23
  • And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. | Luke 2:7
  • For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven …  into the midst of the land … | Wisdom 18:14-15
  • And the Word became flesh and lived among us. |  John 1:14
  • Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. | Matthew 25:40

SOCKS AND SHOES

A little boy about 10 years old was standing before a shoe store on the roadway, barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering with cold. A lady approached the boy and said, “My little fellow, why are you looking so earnestly in that window?”

“I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes,” was the boy’s reply.

The lady took him by the hand and went into the store and asked the clerk to get half a dozen pairs of socks for the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He quickly brought them to her. She took the little fellow to the back part of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with a towel.

By this time the clerk had returned with the socks. Placing a pair upon the boy’s feet, she purchased him a pair of shoes. She tied up the remaining pairs of socks and gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, “No doubt, my little fellow, you feel more comfortable now?”

As she turned to go, the astonished lad caught her by the hand, and looking up in her face, with tears his eyes, answered the question with these words: “Are you God’s Wife?”

Source | Unknown

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. | Matthew 25:40 NRSV
  • Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. | Matthew 25:40 the message

 

ARE YOU GOD?

With Christmas coming  grandma was out shopping for gifts for her grandchildren.  While she was at the toy store going through her list she noticed a small homeless girl outside wistfully looking into the store.  Grandma’s heart went out to this little girl.  She invited her into the store and asked her to pick out a gift for herself.  As they walked out of the store, the little girl held Grandma’s hand and looked into her kind eyes and asked “Are you God?” 

Grandma, somewhat embarrassed and somewhat touched said, “No, my dear, I am not God.” 

“Then who are you?”  continued the little girl.  Grandma thought for a moment and said, “I am a child of God.”  The little girl, fully satisfied and smiling, said, “I knew there was a connection!”

Source | Paul Coutinho, How Big is Your God?, page 1

PONDER AND CONSIDER

When people come into your life do they see a divine connection?

THE DANGERS OF STANDING FROZEN

A boy was asked by his grade school teachers if he wanted to play a part in the Christmas nativity play.

“Of course I do,” he said.

“Good,” the teacher told him. “You get to be Joseph.”

The boy was proud.  “What are my lines?” he asked.

“You don’t have any,” the teacher answered.

“But what do I do?” the boy asked.

“You just stand there,” the teacher said, “and make sure Mary doesn’t look bad.”

The boy did just that. Standing frozen throughout the entire play. After it was over, adults patted him on the head and told him, “You were such a marvellous Joseph.” And he was proud.

Source | Terry Hershey, Soul Gardening, pages 69-70

PONDER AND CONSIDER

The boy grew up and wondered:

  • If I was such a marvellous Joseph, why did I never once talk to Mary?
  • If I was such a marvellous Joseph, why did l never once pick up the baby Jesus and sing him a song?
  • If I was such a marvellous Joseph, why did I never once offer coffee to the shepherds?

He was a marvellous Joseph only because he did what everyone said he should do. He was marvellous because he was frozen! A frozen Joseph. And your insides grind to a halt, wound tight and immobile.

Are you frozen? Or are you open, flexible, soft and flexible, always ready to respond freely, spontaneously, and creatively?