Saturday, April 28, 2012

Easter Meows: Grooming

Cats groom themselves, and Baxter is no exception. Grooming has a number of purposes in the feline world. It keeps things like coat, paws and nose clean. It fills in time when there are no interest prey to watch. It soothes the cat when something upsets it. A few hardly licks of the back or shoulder, and whatever was causing anxiety and frustration seems to disappear. In fact, one of the ways you know that you have an emotionally troubled cat is if he or she grooms him or herself incessantly. Too much of a good thing turns bad when neurotic compulsiveness causes sin irritation. There is another down side to grooming -- hairballs! All that loose fur that the grooming relieves from the outside can gum up the insides. The hacking and full body peristalsis that can result are anything but pleasant for both pet and owner.

To groom the hard-to-reach places, cats have this remarkable ability to contort their bodies. They can twist in almost 180 degrees or fold themselves in half to get every inch of their torsos for a comforting lick or two. they won't stop stretching and bending until they get to the exact spot that needs attention. Comfort is worth the indignity of a compromised position. Grooming is all about the cat making him or herself feel comfortable, safe and secure. Baxter always feels better about himself after a few well-placed licks.

We have our own way of making ourselves feel comfortable and secure. Instead of licking our physical surface, we lick the internal side of ourselves, our spirits. When we are hurt by life's unfairness and rejection, we sometimes keep the wounds clean and fresh by wallowing in self-pity. When we are insecure and nervous, we do what it takes to feel at ease again -- eat too much, smoke, indulge our sexual fantasies, or overwork. When depressed or despairing about our significance or importance, we do something to convince ourselves that we matter and make a difference. Maybe we shop. Maybe we drink too much alcohol. Maybe we gossip about others' flaws and failures. Whatever it is, we build ourselves up by reaching for something that we think adds to our stature or dulls the pain of feeling small. We soothe our wounded spirit with something that licks our ego and brings a comfortable feeling for a while. But it doesn't last.

Our self-generated comforts all wear off in time, and we are left with the same wounded, anxious, depressed person in the mirror. We can't heal ourselves permanently. The wounds, anxiety and despair are too deep, rooted in original sin and the power of evil that is beyond our abilities to control. Only a power greater than ourselves and our devices can heal our souls, quiet our self-doubts, and lift our spirits. This is the power of the Risen Lord that promises peace beyond the grave, instills confidence through faith, and brings hope based upon a love that death could not contain. The resurrection grooms us for a new kind of life, one that finds comfort not in what we can do for ourselves, but in what God can do for us through sharing our talents with each other in the Lord's name. That is what God's love looks like when it grooms us into something beautiful. We discovered a communion of life that uses the circumstances we are in to reveal a deeper dimension, the mystery of grace saving us and ennobling us in the process.

Baxter needs a lick of his tongue to keep him calm and balanced. We need a lick of grace to find peace and our true worth. Let us help each other find the beauty secret we are looking for and the comfort it brings by sharing God's grace in our service to and with each other. We will all feel better that way -- less anxious, more secure, healed and at peace -- without the problem of hairballs.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Easter Meows: Free of Fear

Baxter is a scaredy cat. He hides under the bed when the vacuum cleaner turns on. He is easily startled by any loud noise. When I hold him in my arms and take him out-side on a sunny day, he gets easily spooked and tries to hide his head in the crook of my arm for safety. Anything unusual, unfamiliar or unexpected can raise a fright for him who likes to pose as my ferocious feline. Although he is bulky like a lion and likes to make threatening hisses when it’s safe to do so, under all this bravado, Baxter truly is a pussy cat—the cowardly lion wishing he were more but, when the test comes, failing to find it.

He is so much like us, isn’t he? We pose our courage in words and gestures when we know we can escape if a real test comes. We think of ourselves as strong and resolute in our beliefs and values, until they come into conflict with our self-interest and comfort-able life style. We use back room tactics to criticize others, but back off from directly facing them with our concerns and the reason for them. We take the course of least resis-tance to avoid hassles. It sometimes becomes ―live and let live‖ not out of respect for others, but out of convenience for ourselves. The price of peace becomes our passivity and apathy. We walk away from the problem or difficulty, hoping it won’t be there when we re-turn. We are afraid of what might happen if we deal with each other honestly, directly, and freely. If they won’t do what I say or do or want, where do we go from there? Is the only alternative to give in or force our way?

The Risen Lord speaks a few key messages to His first disciples. The first is "Fear not," and the reason He gives for relinquishing fear is "It is I." A relationship with the Lord Jesus overcomes fear. We are not left on our own to figure out the unknown and the dilemmas it creates. We have the wisdom, the care, and the strength that come from faith, and the support and shared insight that come from the community of disciples to which we belong. We are not alone, but we live bound to God through the mark of baptism and bound to all the baptized through the Spirit that was poured out on us. The Lord Jesus is the hub of the wheel, and attached to Him we are connected to all oth-ers who claim to be His disciples. What’s there to fear with such a united force?

That is why the second message of the Risen Lord is "Peace." We know we are free from fear when we speak and act with a sense of confidence and resolve that is not easily shaken or stubbornly stuck in one way -- my way! That is the case because our confidence is not solely in ourselves. We trust that the power of God is available to us who seek it and that this power is effective through us. This creates a certain detachment from our efforts. We don’t need to control every as-pect of everything in life. We don’t need to be successful all the time. We don’t need to do it only our way. We just need to serve. God’s power is a force for service, and if people are being served with the respect due fellow disciples, then we can relax about how it is done, who does it, or what the final outcome may look like. We work and live in peace.

Poor Baxter doesn’t have the benefit of baptism in the risen life of Christ. He has to make it on his instincts alone. No wonder he is so easily frightened. No need for us to be scaredy cats though. We share discipleship in a community of the baptized. We are not alone. Peace.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Easter Meows: The Leap

Baxter is a senior cat now. At eleven, he has sown his wide oats and is contented with the simple pleasures of cat life — food, sleep, sunshine and a good scratch. I do not know if Baxter has joined AARC (American Association of Retired Cats), but he definitely lives the retired life style. Still, there is one thing from his youthful prime that Baxter continues to practice with poise and aplomb. He still jumps! He still has the old stuff when it comes to leaping with grace and surprise onto a window sill, a table, the bed, even the roof of my car. He springs into place seemingly effortlessly. He glides through the air and lands where he wants, perfectly in balance. How does he do it?

I read that a cat’s skeletal structure isn’t made like ours. In layman’s terms, they are more loosely connected bone to bone so that they can “spring” from a set position and stretch to a new one without looking contorted or squashed. Their bodies have a lot of “give” to them, and that makes their movements look effortless. Even the old boy, Baxter, hasn’t lost this cat magic.

Nor has God. God is older than all of us. In fact, we gave up trying to count God’s age. It’s impossible, so we say instead that God is eternal, without beginning or end. Yet, like cats, God stays spry in His ability to leap and keep His balance in our lives. That is what He showed us in Christ’s resurrection. Death could not hold God down when Jesus was laid in the tomb. He leaped to new and transformed life, and established a new way of balancing the injustices and unfairness of life through the grace of His Holy Spirit. Love evens the scales. Love springs into action when all else seems lost. Love never grows old, and never dies. As Saint Augustine describes God, He is “Love, ever ancient, ever new.” It’s that Love that saves us through the Easter mysteries of death becoming the springboard to new life.

So don’t give up just because you’re older or feeling older through the weight of life’s burdens of sin and heartache. It is never too late to learn how to leap like a cat, when we let our graceful God land in our hearts and change our way of living. We may aim for places we didn’t think we could reach, and balance ourselves on a crossbeam there that we feared would not support us. But no one expected Jesus to rise from the dead after the cross of Calvary killed Him. Faith is a leap into the mystery of life from death, a leap into the arms of a loving God. So let’s not hold onto ourselves too tightly, or we will land hard and off balance when life moves us. Learn from the Creator of cats. We can still jump at any age, if we allow God to keep us loose and balanced through the power of the Risen Lord.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Meows: The Look

You can’t stare a cat down. I have tried it with Baxter, and I never win. He usually gets me to laugh by doing something that distracts me even while he’s holding my gaze. Looking into a cat’s eyes is like looking into the abyss. What is going on behind that mysterious stare? Are myriad ideas running through his head about his owner, the weather, food, other cats, the next prank, or is the stare a blank, disguising a vacuous gray matter void of any thoughts? Cat’s eyes are a mystery. They attract us with their colors and their penetrating gaze. The dilating and shrinking of their pupils intrigues us. They appear at different times in different moods—mournful, happy, eager, bored, pensive, and caring. It’s all in the soft, feline eyes, and the eyes are the window of the soul. We are fascinated by their look because we hope to get a glimpse of what makes them tick.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to look into God’s eyes? What would we see there? Certainly, more mystery than we could ever imagine, and more love than we could ever hope to acknowledge and embrace. But where do we find the eye of God? Easter points the way.

The empty tomb of Christ’s resurrection is the opening to God’s soul. It is the eye we look into to discover who God is for us. Like the eyes of a physical creature, it is a sign of the interior life, a clue to what may be going on inside the mind and heart of its subject. The empty tomb offers no definitive explanation of Christ’s victory over sin and death, but it draws us into this event by raising questions and calming our fears of the darkness we associate with such things. It declares that something happened here unprecedented in human history yet beyond the confines of that history. The eternal God reached into the realm of death and brought forth life that will never die again. He reached into the place where the consequences of human sin left a dead body and healed the effects of sin by raising that body to new life. And the best news of all is that this miracle is not just for the Jesus who was crucified, but through Him, it is for everyone who dies with Christ in baptism. God is the Lord of the living and the dead. God’s Lordship is generous, gracious and loving for us all. Unlike the power of the proud and arrogant, the victory of the Risen Lord is humbly shared with those who share His life. The empty tomb empties the tombs of all who believe in Christ’s power to save. Life is promised for all because one man died for the many.

This is, indeed, a mystery, more perplexing than any bizarre Baxter stare or human look at the unknown. It is the look of Love itself Who created the world and saved it from its own selfishness and limitations. It sees what we can’t see now. It promises what is beyond our ability to grasp. It is communion with God through the portal of what appears most separated and isolated from human contact with another, death. It is Resurrected Life. Nothing can explain it. Nothing can destroy it. But Christian believers throughout the world celebrate it this Easter day as the true heart of God shared with the broken hearts of humanity, making them whole. Alleluia!

Baxter and I wish all our readers a “Happy Easter!”