Ironic Advent Meditation #2,378: Donkey and Friends (December 24)
My Advent Journey culminated with a journey. From Indiana to Texas. Today I drove all the way from Little Rock to the hills outside Bastrop, where someone in our family has had a "country place" since what seems like forever. We swam, fished, played, and unwound on this same property when I was ten years old. We were still doing it tonight. My brother Gordon even caught a small fish today. His daughter, Katy caught a bigger one. I made it just in time to be fed, get a present, lead some carols on the ukelele, and spend some time with Gordo, his wife Margaret, his daughters Claire and Katy, my cousin Uncle Bubba (don't even ask) and his wife Carol (they own the property and the house), their son John III, his wife Joy, and their son Harry. I did not have time to walk in the back of the property and visit the goats and donkeys.
But that's OK, because then I drove to my sister Missy's. Missy has one animal for each day of Christmas. Two dogs--Max and Rosie. A cat named Charles--after our dad. Two turtles--Luci and Desi. Four hens (none of them French as far as I know)--May, Sweety Pie (or something like that), and two golden ones both named Goldy. A rooster named Jimi Hendrix. Two parakeets (mates) named yellow bird and blue bird. And a cockatiel named Eagle. OK, that's thirteen. I know that there are supposedly only twelve days of Christmas. But I've never figured out how to count that, since it is thirteen days from December 25 to January 6, the feast of Epiphany. I suppose you aren't supposed to count Epiphany but either we will have to this year or . . . they will have to lengthen the calendar (which would only be fair to the animals).
Actually, I met most of the animals just a little while ago, when we got back from midnight mass. The chickens I won't see until the morning, but I knew them all anyway. But it was just a little while ago, about 2 A.M. (it's OK, we aren't getting up for another four hours), when she asked me, "do you want to meet the turtles." Well, I just drove 1200 miles, plus I just went to midnight mass, and I think I've done my duty to family and the little lord Jesus. So I said, not really, not now. To her credit, Missy didn't pout, but I'm pretty sure Desi or Lucy (not sure which is which) threw a real hissy fit. Or was just splashing around. Anyway, I thought better of it. Of course I want to meet the turtles. They are obviously the most splendid members of their species since they live with my sister.
Also, though, because it's Christmas Eve, or, by now, early Christmas morning. According to some reports, it is the very day that the mysterious power (of wisdom and love, we hope) responsible for dreaming up and fashioning and putting a stamp of approval upon these strange fellow animals with whom we share the world came down to live with us (and them), taking our skin (and theirs), and sanctifying all of our wild and smelly lives.
I did not hear about this in the sermon at midnight mass, but, then again, I didn't expect to. What I heard, instead, was a rather abstruse comparison of the true understanding of Christmas to three concentric circles each one bigger than the other and something something something. By then Missy and I were laughing enough to possibly disturb anyone who could understand the point (which had something to do with emptying yourself so that the child could be born inside of you as it apparently once was for St. John of the Cross and Thomas Merton or something). We were laughing because, just as the priest was getting ready to preach, I had said "he looks like a computer geek or an astronomer or something." So when he started in on the concentric circles, each one with a different meaning of Christmas, and said "do you follow me?" we kind of got carried away.
That's OK, there is more to the story of the Bethlehem stable than animals. But people always want to jump from discovering the so-called main point of a story to forgetting about all the rest of the story. That's like my students who keep insisting that Don Quixote is mad. Yes, he is, I say. We learned that on page one. Now why did Cervantes write the other 870 pages? Perhaps the story also suggests, for example, that shepherds are important. Maybe just as important as any number of kings or wise men, though, some would say, the story isn't really about either.
Squint your eyes you highly-evolved mammals and look this way for a sacred minute. Baby Jesus coming to live in a barn and taking on animal skin is the starting point (along with some wonderful Genesis passages) of a theology of animals. Point one. Sheep are important. So are oxen (have I ever really seen an ox?). And donkeys. And, in addition, turtles. Hens who give us brown, speckled eggs with bright orange yolks. And roosters, like Jimi Hendrix, who sing the dawn up from the night and drive those hens crazy (One of the reasons I find factory farms so wicked is that we have created a world in which so many animals no longer have "animal sex.").
Other important things? Cockatiels, like Eagle, who makes a sound imitating a kiss because Missy spends what some (but probably not baby Jesus) might find an inordinate amount of time kissing him. In addition, he whistles badly, because Missy always has. And, of course, cats like Charles, despite my allergies, "for he is of the tribe of Tiger." Highly evolved animals (from one perspective at least) like the priest who believes Christmas is a set of concentric circles.
Also, Max, the chihuahua who trembles in my presence and barks his fear. As if I were an angel or something. I'm not an angel, Max. I'm flesh and blood and poop and skin and hair, like you. Like Jesus.
Well, maybe tonight we should call him by his animal name--Emmanuel.
After mass, Missy and I walked over to the creche to see the baby, the mother, the carpenter, the ox, the sheep, the rooster (wait a minute!?), the shiny star (which indeed was possibly three concentric circles having no blood or guts or genitals). It was just like we were kids back at Our Lady of Mercy. I'm not sure how real animals would have stood up to the thick fog of incense in church tonight. Hopefully we are through with the days of testing the effect on us by torturing them.
I lit two candles for mammals. And made that little moaning sound that we make sometimes when we want.