Expressing Joy – or “The Empty Nest”


I haven’t been blogging much lately, as you know. Lot’s been happening at this time of year, including teaching a new course for Anima Education on “The Challenge of Atheism” – which was a real challenge, I can tell you. But it was also one of our best attended courses ever, and I think both teacher and students benefited enormously. 

But I am writing this short post about a recent experience of “joy” that I had. Many people around the Archdiocesan offices know that for the last six weeks I have been playing “nanny” to 24 baby rats. Dot and Smudge, the two six week old female rats that I brought home in the last weekend of October, turned out to be both pregnant at the time the left the pet shop (we won’t go into details…). The result was that two weeks later Smudge produced a litter of eleven pups and, a week later, Dot produced thirteen more. 

The experience was somewhat overwhelming for me, and all will attest, including my wife and colleagues, that I have been somewhat obsessed with caring for my rats over the last six weeks. Well, last week ten of the first litter went back to the pet shop ($5 each) and this past week eleven of the second litter were sent back. Their cage, which is situated in my outdoor “hermitage/cave” now looks decidedly empty. No more bouncing and scuttling little rats at feed time, or sleeping bundles in the morning (you may not sympathise with this, but the experience of placing one’s hand into a warm soft heap of baby rats is actually very pleasant!). Aunty Smudge and Mummy Dot have only three young females left of their litters – Stripe (because she has one), Stumpy (because someone chewed off half her tail) and Persephone (because my daughter claimed the right to give at least one of them a “real” name). You can see in the picture Dot, Stripe and Persy with an expression on their faces which says “Where has everyone gone?”

The night before the last litter was packed off, I was walking the dog and reflecting on the experience overall. One reason I have identified that I have been so besotted with these little creatures is that I grew up on a farm where we always had a little of baby somethings around, be they puppies, kittens, chickens, piglets, lambs, joeys, emu chicks, whatever. This was an important experience of my childhood and yet it has been more than thirty years since I have had a pet that has given birth to a litter. So there was a bit of “return to childhood” about it all. I am sure there is more to it than that though, and doing the atheism course at the same time as raising the baby rats often had me wondering whether the rats believed in me (the god who daily provided clean bedding, gave them food and clean bedding and refilled the soy milk bowl). 

Anyway, as I was saying, I was walking the dog and took the opportunity of being out on the local oval alone to voice out loud my gratefulness by simply saying “Thank you God for my rats”. It was a simple act, but one which helped me to place it all in perspective and own it as a precious experience that was a gift from God. 

Today I found a link in Cathnews to an article in America Magazine by James Martin SJ on joy. In it, he says that if we are going to be truly honest with God in our prayer, we need to bring the joys and positive experiences of our lives to God as well as our needs and difficulties. Giving thanks, even for small things (eg. 24 baby rats), is a way of seeing all our experiences as gifts, and valuable ones at that. Out on the oval the other night, with the stars shining in a clear sky, one could be overwhelmed by the “bigness” of God – after all, he made all that, and on a scale far beyond my comprehension. But at another level, he was concerned for these little creatures, and saw somehow that bringing them into my life would bring me joy. 

So this post is just to say again: Thank you, God, for those baby rats. 

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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One Response to Expressing Joy – or “The Empty Nest”

  1. M says:

    I felt very guilty reading about your delight in caring for the rats. I wish I could have this truly Christian appreciation of these creatures because they are a part of God’s marvellous creation but I have always had a deep seated fear of them.

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