Outdoor manual labour -for us Dominican students, what a welcome break from studying philosophy! Some of us would clear ground for us to plant trees; others would work in the kitchen garden and grow vegetables for our large community; while others would keep the grounds around our priory tidy. It was good to get out of the lecture hall and into the fresh air. It was good to get physically tired after philosophy had put our brains into a spin.
For most of the year we worked in separate groups with different jobs. But there were some key tasks which required all of us students to pull together as a team. We all hated those foggy afternoons when we had to pick ice-cold potatoes out of the frozen ground -the inefficient spinner only partly dug them out of the ground. We had to finish the job with our bare, numb fingers. A miserable, wretched task!
But we really did enjoy harvesting and haymaking in the warm, sunny weather. In those days farming was not nearly as mechanised as it is today. We had to become experts with the pitchfork. It's quite an art making a haystack, one which won't topple over. We had to be careful not to pierce each other with the fork as we pitched hay up to someone working on top of the rick. Not always were we successful! I can still remember a fork piercing my trouser leg!
And I vividly recall one occasion when we were building a haystack. There was I on top of the rick, carefully wielding my pitchfork to distribute the hay passed up to me. Suddenly I felt a tickling, an irritation, in the small of my back. What could it be? To satisfy my curiosity and to remove the irritant I pulled off my shirt and shook it.
Low and behold, a mouse jumped out and dived deep into the safety of the hay. What a nerve! It must have run up the inside of my trouser- leg and continued up into my shirt. What moved it to go there, I can only guess. Perhaps it was trying to escape from the galumphing boots of a Dominican friar, who had invaded its territory. Or perhaps it thought I would provide it with a comfortable safe, home. If so, it would bring its family. If the mouse got a shock, so did I. We students certainly had a good laugh afterwards.
Surprisingly, this long-forgotten incident unexpectedly surfaced from the depths of my sub-conscious some fifty years later. What provoked that I don't know. Perhaps the Good Lord, in His mysterious wisdom, had a deep purpose in reminding me of this adventurous mouse. Could the mouse, which had sought refuge in my shirt, tell me something special about meeting God? Certainly the encounter between the mouse and me was unique and took both of us by surprise.
Perhaps therein lies the message God wanted me to learn. It's quite simple and yet very profound. Through the wee mouse God was telling me that He approaches and speaks to us in many unexpected and different ways. Some of them momentous, others mundane, while others are amusing. I must be prepared to meet Him in whatever way or guise He approaches me -even through the curiosity of an adventurous mouse.
That's the central idea, underlying every posting on this blog. I don't need to seek a further meaning for this incident. That's enough. Perhaps I need constantly to be reminded to keep into sharp focus what Peter and I are trying to do in our blog. That includes not reading into any event a meaning which it can't really support. But my encounter with the mouse did teach me another important lesson -to tuck my trousers into my socks when haymaking! I didn't want mouse and mates to choose me as their landlord as they took up residence in my shirt!
And with the young Samuel I say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening," (1 Sam. 3. 9). And please help me to understand what you are saying -even through an over-curious mouse!
In a fortnight Fr. Peter will see how we can meet God through Our Patrons.