the mouse and the shell

Some time ago, we held our Area Meetingwpid-20141024_205206.jpg  Gathering at Glenthorne, the Quaker Guest House in Grasmere in the Lake District, a lovely spot, next to a stream surrounded by hills and mountains.We were going on an Appleseed workshop, based on the story of Johnny Appleseed, who walked across America, planting seeds and growing orchards for free. It offers many different ways of exploring spiritual matters using creative arts. I’d been on a taster before but this was my first proper experience of a longer workshop. I was nervous and curious, recalling my art teacher’s advice at school not to persue the subject any further. I was eleven.

On the first evening, we gathered round a large table, filled with objects, like toy cars, combs, sticks, leaves, pebbles. The tutor had asked us to pick two – one which represented God and the other yourself. I walked slowly round and saw two I thought might fit. But I went round again just to make sure. These were the ones. I chose a small, white shell for God (God will listen to me and I’ll be able to hear God, I told myself). And I picked up a green, spongy mouse, that would sit on your palm. It had whiskers, seqinned eyes and a tail. Still has, as we were allowed to keep them and they sit on my kitchen window ledge now.

I was feeling like a mouse, can still do but, at that time, I often felt invisible in a room full of people. I would say something and nobody noticed me. I felt I had no voice.

Overnight, a great snow fell. Opening the curtains early on Saturday morning, hills, trees, fields and roads, everything were under deep snow, maybe, 18 inches deep.  I had to go out in it and quickly dressed and put on my walking boots. Strangely, it didn’t feel cold outside.

And I wasn’t the first up and out. There was a trail of footsteps on the path already and tracks of fox and raven across the fields but not many. Not a soul in sight. So quiet.

I started along the path by the brook and started a conversation with God, in my imagination. ‘You know God’, I said, ‘I go into a room and no-one knows I’m there. I feel useless, like a little mouse…’ and I took a couple of steps, starting to think of the last time this had happened to me, when I heard God’s voice saying very quietly, ‘Yeah, me too.’

‘Yeah, me too…what do you mean!?! You’re God with the big booming voice. You’re all powerful. You can do anything you like. You can’t tell me you feel like a mouse too..?’

God didn’t reply. He didn’t have to (and it was a ‘he’ this time) And as I walked on, I began laughing – I don’t know why –  more and more till tears rolled down my face.






20161020_093011.jpgTwo goats lived either side of a bridge over a river. It was too narrow to pass side by side, so each morning one would waive the other across and vice versa. When one reached the other side, they paused a while to ask how things were going. How were their families? And they wished each other a good morning before going on their way. The few times they did find themselves on the bridge together, they leaned this way and that to help each other past, careful to hold their horns out of the way, mindful not to push the other over into the river.

And this went on for a long time. The two goats were firm friends. Then, one morning, one of the goats started to walk across the stones as usual when it looked up and saw the other had also begun crossing. Strange, it thought, but it does happen. As they drew nearer, the look on the other goat’s face was different this time. It didn’t smile. It didn’t say hello. The first goat cried out ‘Good Morning!’ but this was met by silence. It asked what the matter was. ‘I have to get passed. That ok? Will you let me by?’ But the other goat stood its ground, chest out, horns raised in challenge and spoke not a word. So, the first goat advanced a little and tried to go round but, without the help of the other goat, this was impossible. So, the first goat returned to its bank.

The next day, it tried again. Setting off across the bridge, the other goat started too. They met in the middle and the first goat tried to go by but was stopped by the other. The first started to push harder. The other harder back, their hooves clattering on the stone slabs. After too long like this, the first goat retreated, still without knowing why its friend had turned on it. The third day, the goat really had to get across to the other side. It set off determined, moving faster, blood pumping and eyes wide. And as they met in the middle, it looked like it was seeing into a mirror. They clashed head on, locking horns and banging heads. Neither gave an inch. Both pushed and pulled. It went on for ages till they both fell into the water.

The next day the same happened and the next and the next after that. To my knowledge, they are still pushing and shoving and shouting. Neither will let the other across the bridge and they always end up in the river. I can’t help wondering what on earth happened in the first place. Something must have. And, I wonder, is there any chance they can restore their friendship? Where do you start?