A Reflection from Fr Andy
THE WIZARD AND THE MOUSE
A few weeks ago I told a story at Mass about a wizard and a mouse. The grumpy wizard was busy in his workshop and was determined to sort out his magic spells. Everything was so disorganised that he wanted to put things straight and decided that he would put labels on all the bottle of his magic spells. So getting all the “A”s together – the magic spells that would turn you into an Antelope, an Alligator or Aardvark. Then he would tackle the “B”s, the spells that would turn you into a Badger, a buffalo, or beaver. The same with the “C”s – the magic spells that would turn to into a caterpillar, cheetah or kangaroo – the wizard was a terrible speller!
Now, the wizard was hard at work in his workshop when there was a knock at the door. He hated been disturbed when he is working and so the bad tempered wizard opens the door to find a mouse standing there and bellows, “What do you want?” Shaking, the mouse replies “I want to be different”. “What do you mean different?” shouted the wizard. “Well, I’m fed up of being a mouse – everywhere I go cats chase me, women scream at me and elephants run away from me. So I want to be something else.” “Well what?” shouted the bad tempered wizard. “I don’t really know” said the mouse. “Oh I haven’t got time for this, I’m far too busy”, so he goes and gets an unlabelled magic spell and gives the bottle to the mouse, “here take this” said the wizard. “What will it turn me into? said the mouse. “I don’t know”, said the wizard, “something different – that’s what you want isn’t it?” And the wizard slammed the door shut.
So the mouse takes his magic spell home and then makes a nice cup of tea, putting the magic spell bottle on his little table. As he is drinking his tea, he looks at the bottle and begins to think about what the magic spell might turn him into. He thought it might turn him into a butterfly. “Ooh”, he thought, “butterflies are lovely, floating around light and free and everybody loves butterflies”. Then the thought occurred to him, “wait a minute, little boys go round catching butterflies in a net and then stick pins into them and then pressing them into a book. Oh no, I don’t want that!” Then he thought he might get turned into an elephant, “Yes, elephants are big and strong and nobody will challenge an elephant”. But then the thought occurred, “But I will be too big to fit into this lovely little house of mine, that I have come to love over the years. No, not an elephant”. And the very thought of him turning into a cat made him feel sick.
As the mouse sat there all afternoon he began to think that he actually enjoyed being a mouse, and the more he thought about it, the more he began to appreciate how good it is being a mouse and has so much to be grateful for. He then felt a contended peace well up inside his heart and a joy that raised his spirits to a new level. “Oh, I must go to the wizard’s house and give him back the magic spell”.
So, off he goes back to the wizard’s workshop and knocks on the door. The wizard opens the door, looks at the mouse and exclaims, “Wow, at last one of my magic spells has worked – yippee” and he started dancing around the house! The moral of the story of course is that the magic spells only work, when you do not open them.
I used this story to illustrate that the real changes in life are the ones that take place internally, those changes that are deep within you. These are the changes that matter.
It struck me that with the coronavirus pandemic the whole emphasis of dealing with the virus seems totally focussed on the external: social distancing, frequent handwashing, respiratory hygiene, wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, restricted movements. There has virtually no attention given to the inner qualities and attributes. No one it seems has highlighted the importance of boosting the immunity system, the long-known best defence against illness and disease. I have rarely heard it said that our inner disposition can help us overcome physical issues and problems. Even the vaccine is just another external strand to deal with a virus – a vaccine is not a cure. It may help us to contain the virus for a while until another major crisis will hit us and it will be the same all over again. A vaccine is a short-term and perhaps short sighted solution, not a long-term hope. We can build up our immunity-resistance by wholesome diet, daily exposure to nature’s nurturance, healthy exercise, fulfilling relationships, empowering work, good stress management and having a well-balanced spiritual life (as in prayer and meditation, mindfulness etc). Adopting a holistic approach to living is an invaluable resource. Empowering humans to build up immunity – their own and that of all others – by living more in harmony with the earth itself, offers a more helpful and overpowering future.
Going back to our Wizard and Mouse parable, it appears that the magic spells of vaccines, anti-biotics, governmental rules and restrictions are never really going to work on their own. Yet when there is a “success” such as a reduction of Covid-19 cases and people overcoming the virus, like the Wizard there is a jubilant response. The Mouse’s inner change brought about a clearly external result and yet the Wizard took all the credit for it, as does the government for Covid-19 cases being reduced and people being sent home from hospital. There is nothing said about the people who are living healthy balanced lives that do not “catch” the virus because of the way they live in harmony with nature and have a creative inner life.
The thrust of Jesus’ mission was the Kingdom of God, and time and time again he insisted that the “Kingdom of God is within you.” In fact, his first sermon, according to Matthew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, was all about the inner life. Jesus would say, “You have heard it said, ‘You must not commit adultery’, but I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in her heart.” (Matt 5:27) And also, Jesus said, “You have heard it said: ‘You must not kill’; but I say to you if anyone is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court”. (Matt 5:20)
Jesus was more concerned with what was going on in the heart than in any practical behaviour. In other words getting the heart right was key for Jesus in moving towards proclaiming the Kingdom of God and living life to the full.
I have just lost a good friend of mine called Marie. I have known her for over 20 years and recently she has died of cancer of the oesophagus. All kinds of interventions for a treatment to cure her were not possible, as the cancer had spread too far and wide. At the same time as Marie was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus her son, for some reason cut himself off from any communication with her. He did not talk to her, text her, or see her for over two years. He also did not allow Marie’s grandson to see her. Marie did not understand why this happened, and it broke her heart. However, eventually, Marie’s sister, Carol went to see Marie’s son and told him that she was dying and then he allowed her grandson to see her. Eventually the son had a change of heart and went to see her in the hospice where Marie was dying and there was reconciliation.
I, even now, believe that the cancer of the oesophagus and the pain that Marie suffered through the refusal of her son to communicate with her are intimately connected. When I went to visit Marie on the Friday before she died on the following Monday, I looked at her through my goggles and mask and she looked most puzzled as she gazed at me. I probably looked like a spaceman! So I took off my goggles and mask so she can look at me quite plainly and she gave me the warmest, most beautiful smile that I have not seen for quite a few years; most likely since her son refused to talk with her. But I knew at that moment that Marie was healed. She could not be cured, which is about the body, but she was healed, which is about the soul and the spirit. I knew then that Marie would die in peace.
Jesus cured some people, but not all – he was more interested in healing, healing the soul, driving out demon – the demons in our life, like thinking we are the centre of the universe, the demons that make us endlessly collect things, the demons that discard people, the demons that pass up the truth, the demons that excuse vice and ignore virtue. Sometimes Gospel wisdom tells us that an uncured body brings about a healed soul.
Ram Dass, an American spiritual teacher in the Hindu tradition suffered a devastating stroke in 1997, makes a fascinating distinction. He said, “while cures aim at returning our bodies to what they were in the past, healing uses what is present to move us more deeply to soul awareness.” He goes on, “while I have not been cured of the effects of my stroke, I have certainly undergone profound healing of heart and mind.” In other words healing, which refers to the soul, can happen without a cure, which refers to the body. In fact it is often the case of uncured sickness that true healing begins.
I believe that this is what has happened to Marie – though she was not cured, I thank the Lord that Marie was healed. And may she now rest in the peace of Christ.
In these times, when the emphasis on living our lives is so focussed on the external, may we all take time to look after our inner lives.
For my friend Marie,