Wednesday Reflection: Mouse
The manse garden is a true delight and blessing; it is thoroughly therapeutic. In these days of extended lockdown, I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am to have access to a garden so beautiful and peaceful. The vibrant fire-like colours of the azaleas have almost gone, and so too the fragrant, conical shaped late Spring flower of the lilac tree. The brilliant white irises, a symbol of purity, stand elegantly at the back of the garden beyond the apple trees. The tranquillity of this sacred space is enhanced, not disturbed, by numerous visitors: carrion crows, woodpigeons, magpies, blackbirds, song thrushes, bullfinches, house sparrows, dunnocks, robins, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, goldcrests, an occasional tree creeper, rabbits, hedgehog and field mice.
Alongside Scripture, the ‘Book of Nature’ has been a source of revelation for the Church. The Early Church Father Tertullian said that ‘God is known first through nature’. On my own spiritual journey, I remember as a teenager being enthralled by the immense silent beauty of stars trillions of miles away glistening in the night sky. William Wordsworth, perhaps the greatest of the nature poets, wrote of being caught up in God as he crossed the Alps. Without distraction, he said his ‘whole soul was turned to him who produced the terrible majesty before me’. Elsewhere, Wordsworth wrote of a presence, sense sublime, something deeply interfused with the whole of creation.
In Alloway, we cannot think of field mice without thinking also of the poetry of Burns: ‘Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie!’ Field or wood mice with their sandy brown fur and large, protruding dark eyes, race at astonishing speed, darting beneath a bush or chasing one another down the garden steps. The poem reveals the poet’s sensitivity to a ‘poor earth-born companion’, a ‘fellow-mortal’, and grief at humanity’s dominion breaking ‘Nature’s social union’. In an age of rapid extinction – the ‘great dying’ – Burns invites us to stop, be present and tender towards life’s smallest creatures, and offer them respect as best we can. The poem ends on a dark note. As distressing as life is for the wood mouse whose house has been overturned, Burns believes humanity’s plight is worse: the mouse knows only today whereas we can look back over life already lived, bleak and repetitive, and lift our eyes to the future, looking forward, only to guess and fear.
It is true that the virus has brought anxiety, fear and painful loss to many. There is anxiety also about racism, street violence, treasured statues being defaced and an economy crippled by lockdown. In the midst of our struggles, when calm escapes us and we struggle to settle our thoughts, it is good to take ourselves out of ourselves, seek solace in the Book of Nature, be present to the Presence, that sense sublime, and let sacred stillness soak into our souls. The more frequently we practise stillness, the easier it will be to enter into it. Our souls require sweetness, trust, music and the fragrance of flowers.
Jesus said, ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?’ The Mystery we call God, elusive yet feeling every heartbeat, breath and thought, sustains and cherishes us in this very moment and all that lies ahead.