In the eye of the be­holder

The Irish Times - - Bulletin Page - WENDY MAY JA­COBS

Beauty is in the eye of the be­holder. Some years ago I saw a rat heading down a hole in our back gar­den. I went over to the hole, the rat paused be­fore he fi­nally dis­ap­peared, and we looked into each other’s eyes for a few long mo­ments.

He was bright-eyed and fear­less and his whiskers were twitch­ing with so much char­ac­ter and sweet­ness. Read­ers, I fell for him, and I re­gard rats dif­fer­ently now. It was a sad ex­pe­ri­ence though be­cause we were ad­vised we needed to call in pest con­trol given that the nest was so close to our kitchen. Re­luc­tantly I found my­self at war with this in­tel­li­gent, busy lit­tle crea­ture, art­lessly go­ing about his life as he was cre­ated to do.

As well as be­ing a rat fancier I am a pi­geon fancier: not in the tech­ni­cal sense of own­ing a flock of rac­ing pi­geons but in the sense of trea­sur­ing each pi­geon I see.

Pi­geons are of­ten un­fairly vil­i­fied, de­scribed as rats of the air. If this is the case – so be it! Rats are beau­ti­ful too. I ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery pi­geon I en­counter as a lit­tle love-sign from God. Even their liq­uid ma­ter­nal coo sounds like ‘I love you...Ido...Iloveyou...I do...”

Pi­geons and doves are one and the same and they come in hun­dreds of va­ri­eties.

A plump healthy spec­i­men is truly ex­quis­ite in all its every­day splen­dour, with the am­ple bruise-coloured breast of the do­mes­tic pi­geon or the exquisitel­y gen­tle dove-grey (what else?) of the collared dove.

They mate for life – so ro­man­tic! – and are brim­ful of spir­i­tual sig­nif­i­cance. Thor­oughly bib­li­cal crea­tures, a dove bore the olive twig to Noah in his ark, and the Holy Spirit de­scended upon Je­sus at his bap­tism in the form of a dove.

A dove is a gen­tle, pow­er­ful sig­ni­fier of peace, and pi­geons are renowned for their mirac­u­lous hom­ing in­stincts.

My or­di­na­tion prayer card was of a white pi­geon fly­ing through the dark­ness.

I am shar­ing these sim­ple thoughts about these com­mon crea­tures be­cause it does the heart so much good to see the nat­u­ral world (no mat­ter how ur­ban the set­ting) go­ing about its busi­ness full of grace and truth.

An an­i­mal is full of no­bil­ity when it lives ac­cord­ing to its na­ture. We hu­man be­ings have a far more com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with our own na­tures.

Grace and truth abound, yes, but so also does the DIS­grace of our de­graded col­lec­tive na­ture, spoil­ing ev­ery­thing for ev­ery­one.

We are that part of cre­ation which knows the dis­tinc­tion be­tween good and evil and some­times this can feel like an in­tol­er­a­ble load to bear.

I am re­minded of the words of CS Lewis: “When we have un­der­stood free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as some­body once asked me, ‘Why did God make a crea­ture of such rot­ten stuff that it went wrong?’ The bet­ter stuff a crea­ture is made of – the clev­erer and stronger and freer it is –then the bet­ter it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow can­not be very good or very bad; a dog can be both bet­ter and worse; a child bet­ter and worse still; an or­di­nary man, still more so; a man of ge­nius, still more so; a su­per­hu­man spirit best – or worst – of all.”

In to­mor­row’s gospel read­ing from Matthew 11, Je­sus is­sues us with a ten­der in­vi­ta­tion to come to him with the bur­dens we are stag­ger­ing un­der and re­ceive his rest; to hitch our­selves to him and let him do our heavy lift­ing for us. Only by draw­ing close to the God who loves us can we re­dis­cover, as Eu­gene Peter­son puts it, “the un­forced rhythms of grace”.

If we want to see a hu­man be­ing fully alive we need look no fur­ther. Je­sus is that per­son, liv­ing with­out guile, mal­ice, cow­ardice, fear, ut­terly bonded to his heavenly Fa­ther.

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Fa­ther, full of grace and truth.

‘‘

That part of cre­ation that knows the dis­tinc­tion be­tween good and evil

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