Stable truths

Stables, Donkeys, Christmas:

Reader A.H. sends this piece by Jennifer Graham, from a "play barn" in the suburbs of Boston. I hope the horses are as disciplined as the children are suggested to be -- having met a few "play horses" in my time, I have usually found them to be on the verge of dangerous. A thousand-pound creature is not a toy, and if they aren't taught manners, they may "playfully" smash you. Or just by accident.

The main thrust of the story is a reflection on the presence of filth in stables, which is surely one of the great truths of history. It is almost forgotten today, by accident of our suddenly sterile society. What does this mean for a story of a god born in a stable? The author has some thoughts. Chesterton also wrote on the subject, in "The God in the Cave."

It's something I also reflect on sometimes, while working in the barns. No matter how hard you work, no stall that has ever held a horse is free of some evidence of that fact. If you're going to be with horses, you have to learn to accept the presence of that evidence.

Ms. Graham suggests that associating with barns is humbling, and evidence of the particular humility evident in a god who casts off glory so far as to enter a barn. Is that so? If the Christian creation story is even close to correct, surely God cannot have a problem with the dirtiness of barns. It would have been his idea, after all, to make horses in such fashion as to dirty them.

If he had a problem with barns, it would have to be with the existence of barns, not the dirtiness of them. It would have to be, in other words, with the keeping of horses in stalls -- not with the fact that the stalls then became dirty.

If the story is an endorsement of barns, then, it must be an endorsement of humanity's keeping of animals, and rule over them. The favor shown to humanity, by one who had come to love them in spite of themselves, would be the point of the story. Surely that is the way to read the tale.

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