As the quiet of the Christmas season continues, here are a couple more reflections about the ornaments on my Christmas tree.
In the Western world, the owl has long been considered a symbol for wisdom. This is likely a holdover from Greek mythology, since Athena, goddess of wisdom, was often portrayed with an owl. The owl's own natural ability to see into the darkness, seeing things apparently invisible to humans, strengthened its connection to wisodm. Just consider for a moment how many cartoon owls you've see wearing glasses and a graduation cap. We still see this tradition today.
The subject of Wisdom features loud and large in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament. There are seven books collectively referred to as Wisdom Literature. (These books are usually Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom and Sirach.)
The book of Proverbs lays out the definition of wisdom by saying "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10) Fear of the Lord, meaning tremendous respect and reverence, leads us to want to see and interpret things in a way that is pleasing to God, as well as an understanding that gives a glimpse into the Really Real. This is a slightly different understanding of Wisdom than what the Greeks and Romans meant. In the Greek and later Roman tradition, Wisdom was concerned with reason, logic and scholarship. In the Jewish world, however, this is not the meaning of true Wisdom.
In the Jewish, Scriptural world, wisdom refers to the practical interpretation of the natural world, its objects and events, so that a deeper insight into the real nature of things is apprehended. It requires both intuition and reason, put together to understand the workings of the divine. In the Old Testament, King Solomon is an example of this union of reason and intuition, through which he is able to understand some of the workings of the divine. In the New Testament, Jesus himself is Wisdom incarnate, which is why he comments that "One greater than Solomon is here." (Luke 11:31) It is this type of Wisdom through which true understanding is obtained, through which we can come to understand the "knowledge of the holy."
So, although an owl may not at first seem to fit into the symbolism of Christmas, in fact, it points directly to Jesus himself. Let's ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to understand the workings of God, such as we can, and that we will grow in wisdom during this Christmas season.
The Christmas Mouse and St. Juan Diego
Just a few days before we celebrate the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the day after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we remember St. Juan Diego. And how very appropriate it is for this saint to be tucked in between two Marian feast days!
One of the most apparent aspects of St. Juan Diego's character was his humility, his littleness. His well-known quote "I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf," describes how he saw himself. Each of the items St. Juan Diego mentions are all but useless. What can you tie with a small rope? What can you reach with a tiny ladder? What can you do with a tail or a leaf? Nothing.
St. Juan Diego really, really, had no idea why the Mother of God would appear to him. Of all the people in the world, why him? That's such a contrast to how we usually think about ourselves. It is more common for us to think "Well, why NOT me?" The idea of humility is not particularly embraced or cultivated today.
The idea of humility is why this ornament can remind us of St. Juan Diego. It shows a simple little mouse, sitting at the base of a Christmas tree. The mouse looks young, like a child, and he has received a gift. He's looking off into the distance at something beyond our sight. It's as though he's seen something, and received something, wonderful. Something having to do with Christmas and generosity and abundance. And, of course, he has, just as we all have, just as St. Juan Diego did.
St. Juan Diego understood that all he had received was a gift. He understood that the apparitions were a gift. That his uncle's return to health was a gift. That all he had, in fact, was pure gift. That's also what this ornament reminds us. Regardless of the amount of stuff under the tree this year, we have each been given many gifts already. One of the greatest gifts, however, is recognizing our place before God, and cultivating an attitude of humility and gratitude in seeking to live a "little" life.