According to Cheers, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” We all want those places of comfort in the midst of our busy, and sometimes overwhelming, world. The Grotto is a place that can offer that space in the urban chaos of Portland, Oregon. I usually get there at least twice a year, and recommend the same for everyone else. One visit needs to be in the late spring or early summer, when the flowers are all in bloom in the upper level gardens. There are benches and corners were you can hide from the entire world and see nothing but leaves swaying in a breeze.

The other visit needs to be during the Christmas Festival of Lights. The grounds on the first level are covered with lights, a petting zoo is set up, and several choirs perform every night in the chapel. With roving carolers, it is easy to get into a joyful spirit on even the frostiest night.

My favorite part of all is the puppet show. This year was a new play, Mousie’s Joyous Night, and I was there with my mom for the inaugural show (not intentionally, but I was super excited when I found out). One woman writes and performs the whole thing, meaning just two characters are on stage at any time and the story is always simple. This year it was about Mousie trying to learn about the family that had come into his manger. He talks (and of course sings) with a donkey, a sheep, and his mama mouse to learn about the newborn king. Two dozen kids, and their families, were in the audience for the show I saw, and their joy was real as they sang along with the puppet on a hand who struggled to be patient in waiting for the baby to arrive.

The puppet show was simple. And just like the Grotto, it caught your attention amidst all the movement around. Actually it demanded attention, and imagination. It was a show created for those that the Bible would call “the least of these” in a world that isn’t made for them. The kids in the front rows, singing along with a donkey about his bumpy journey, were sharing real joy. And their light was brighter than all the flickering bulbs around us.

Mousie taught simple truths that grown ups too often forget: curiosity, patience, gratitude, and joy. Some beautiful gifts for the holiday season. Pretty amazing for a puppet show.

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