“The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse” is a beautifully illustrated and written book by Charles Mackesy, described by the author as a book for “everyone, whether you are eighty or eight.”
His work describes the wanderings of a boy who is lonely and a mole who loves cake. They meet a mainly silent fox, scarred as he is by life, and a horse who is “the biggest creature they have ever encountered, and also the gentlest.”
“I can see myself in all four of them,” says the author. “Perhaps you can too.”
The pages turn with questions, and answers too, as the characters find friendship and learn lessons from life. One of my favourite lines is the one quoted above. “Is your glass half empty or half full?” asked the mole. “I think I’m grateful to have a glass,” said the boy.
In the poetic and powerful prologue to John’s gospel which gathers together all the Christmas Nativity stories to declare “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” the author uses the Greek word, “pleroma” meaning fullness. “From his fullness we have all received,” he says of Christ and of us.
In Jesus, we are not just given a glimpse of God’s presence in the flesh or simply hear the sound of his words in his teaching but we receive a sharing in what he was and is, his divine nature in all its fullness.
“Hail Mary, full of grace,” we read and pray from Scripture. We too, like Mary, receive “grace upon grace” according to John’s poetic prologue. Half empty? Half Full? Full of grace?
Back to the book. Is our glass half empty or half full? Do we look at what we haven’t got rather than what we have? Perhaps we waver between both at times, depending on our personality and perspective. The difficulties we are dealt, the struggles we make, our mood and mental health. The pain, and the pleasure which evades us – or the pleasure which transports us away from what is really important. The ways we have been hurt in the past, the simple fragility of life. Perhaps we can just be grateful to have a glass.
The last year has affected so many people in so many different ways. Some people have struggled so much and, for them, it can be frustrating to listen to others talk incessantly about how they have grown through this time, and the marvellous lessons they have learned when their own lives have lingered in lockdown. We need to be sensitive to the fragility of life and the pains that people carry, as we try to propagate a ‘positive message!’
It’s a time time when many people are still dealing with anxieties about the future, struggling with mental health, working hard and harder than ever before in both their personal life and in the life of the church, working hard to keep community together.
Some have struggled with working at home. Family and friends have been separated. People have died alone. Funerals have been celebrated at the graveside with a fistful of mourners. Financial difficulties have festered away. Jobs have been jeopardised.
Some parishes have not been able to open their church buildings at all and so haven’t gathered together for worship in person since March. Others have closed during the latest lockdown. Thankfully, we have been able to open every day, and celebrate Mass every day. But it comes at a cost, as we carry the pain of pandemic. Are we half empty, half full? Or just grateful to have a glass?
“We have this treasure in clay jars,” says St Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
A clay jar is a precarious way to carry a treasure. It is fragile and easily cracked. St Paul expresses the real difficulties and dangers of life with Christ. He doesn’t brush aside the bare realities of life, and how fragile we are, how fragile life is. And yet within the fragility we discover great riches. But gentleness is needed.
Perhaps we shouldn’t concern ourselves too much with full or empty glasses but, like the lonely boy in the book who befriends a mole, a fox and a horse, just be grateful for having a glass. Or maybe there is more to this than meets the eye.
To take St Paul’s image, we are the crack-able clay jar, the chipped glass, the fragile receptacle in which is found a great treasure. For Christians, it is the grace of God, the immense treasure of sharing in who Jesus is and who fills our lives.
Like the horse in Mackesy’s book, we can be both the “biggest creature ever encountered and the gentlest.” Perhaps now is the time to be gentle both with others and ourselves and to be just “grateful to have (or be?) a glass.” For whether we feel half empty or half full we can discover great treasure within. So let’s raise a glass. Cheers.
Readings from the Second Sunday of Christmas: Ecclesiasticus 24:1-2,8-12; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-18; John 1:1-18