Saturday, May 26, 2012

Easter Meows: Sunbathing

He seems to think it is the Riviera, but it’s only the bedroom rug. Still Baxter loves the feel of it on these sunny days when the light comes streaming into the windows. He lies in the direct rays, fully stretched out, and basks in the warmth. He won’t move, so that he can soak it all in. I have warned him of the dangers of overexposure to the sun’s rays, but he can’t resist the light and warmth. I haven’t noticed a tan, or worse, a burn. I wonder if that happens to cats. Baxter just closes his eyes and seems to get lost in the tranquility of a perfect weather day. It’s like he IS on vacation at an exotic resort without a care in mind.

We have been told to avoid overexposure to the sun. Its UV rays cause skin cancer at worst, and premature aging at best. Still many people can’t resist the allure of the sun. They love the feel of its warmth on their skin and the look of a “healthy” tan. So many are attracted to the sunlight that even when there is none to be had, they buy an artificial version in tanning salons. Like Baxter, it doesn’t have to be perfect circumstances to enjoy the effects. A glass and metal container with tube lights all around a person when they lie down does the trick for many to feel better about their looks.

Too bad that we don’t have the same sense about the light of the Risen Lord and its warmth for our lives. It may not darken our skin tone, but it can change the tone of our attitudes towards others and our world. Christ’s light shows us that despite the factors that circumstances bring to bear, there is a difference between good and evil, between holiness and hypocrisy, between true service and self-aggrandizement or control of others in the name of charity. This light penetrates beyond the surface of ourselves and others to allow us to see our souls and the common desire we share for God’s forgiveness, healing and love. The warmth of this light is the love of God, and in this love, we can dare to look at ourselves and others differently. We don’t have to be afraid that we won’t be good enough in this light. No worries need arise about being too fat or thin, too pale or blemished when we bathe in the Son’s light. On this beach, only our true selves can soak in the rays of divine love. Everything else blocks the Son’s effects.

And these effects are truly beautiful. We become people with purpose, for we see ourselves as carrying on the very work of God in our world. So we take responsibility for making a better world through our job, families and citizenship. We wear our faith clearly for others to see, yet we assume it humbly, for we know it is a gift. It becomes like a tan, a part of our skin, which we can’t take on and off at our convenience or depending upon the circumstance. We live in the light of Christ 24/7, and this light enters into every place with every person with whom we live our lives. We stretch ourselves to take in as much of it as we can, yet we relax, trusting that it will be there for us when needed. God’s beach is the world and His sunbathers are everyone who seeks Him with a sincere heart. We share the beach with others when we respect their soulful search for the everlasting light. Then we can be God’s witnesses by naming the light, Christ, and the warmth, God’s love. Finally, we step back, and let the Light show the other person the way and the truth and the life for him or her.

Baxter loves the sunshine and seeks it when it shines. The Sonshine loves us and seeks out our souls all the time. Take the time and effort to allow the light of Christ to shine on us and through us. We will all look better for the exposure.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Easter Meows: Common Characteristics

From time to time people have told me that my description of one of Baxter’s quirks fits their cat to a tee. While I want to stand up for Baxter’s special character — after all, he is the best cat in all the world—I have to admit that he is part of a common species and shares much in common with his fellow feline friends. That doesn’t make him less loved and cherished. There will only be one Baxter for me, and he will always be remembered as special and unique. We have been through a lot together — five moves, the death of my parents, three different church positions, and a few illnesses, for starters. A shared history creates bonds that last long, even across species. Yet, with my fellow pet owners, I share common stories of why we love our animals. The particulars are unique, but together we and our pets have lived through a gamut of experiences—losses, challenges, worries and frustrations along with joys, adventures, celebrations and growth in recognizing what is truly valuable. Our pets have been our companions through these times. As such, they signal that there is meaning and purpose to our stories, and make the travel through time less burdensome, and even fun.

The Church is made up of companions in faith on the road to God’s Kingdom. While we each bring our particular personalities, customs and histories to this community, we come together because we share a common baptism in Christ. Our baptism identifies us as disciples called to a lifestyle and vision formed by our Catholic Christian faith. Too often we lose this shared sense of ourselves in the individualism of our American culture. We each want to stand out. We each want to claim ownership for what distinguishes our heritage in the faith. We think of ourselves as different because we think that makes us special and unique. We miss the point.

What makes us special and unique is what we share by entering together into the mystery of God’s life in baptism. When we are baptized we are each claimed as God’s own, never to be duplicated or dismissed. We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection so that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, neither our sin nor the power of evil in our world. It is this love which makes us unique, for it called us into life, sustains us through life’s trials and threats, and promises us eternal life in the end. Yet, the truth of this divine love is that it does not belong to me alone. God is manifest in the many different faces of the faithful, in their histories, customs and cultures. He sounds and looks differently according to our languages and heritages, but He is one God, the Father of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, known in the one Spirit we share. Our baptism seals this oneness of God among ourselves, and is the source of our bond with each other that reaches beyond the differences.

We are like a tapestry. Each thread brings color and texture to the piece, but we only see who we are when we are part of the whole picture created by all the threads. Like cats, we are much alike, yet each makes a particular difference in their pet owner’s life. We are all God’s children and Christ’s disciples in baptism, but each of us is loved differently by God according to what we need, so that we can know we are His own with a special mission to fulfill. Celebrate both dimensions of our faith. Let us each find our true selves in God, and see ourselves together sharing divine life as children of one Father. What is most common among us is what makes us most special to each other and to God.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Easter Meows: Hiding in Place

Sometimes Baxter hides. He hides when he is afraid, like when the vacuum cleaner starts. But he also hides just to play a game sometimes. I come home or get out of my chair after reading for a spell, and he is nowhere to be found. I check all of his favorite spots — his bed, my bed, choice chairs, the rug near the heating vent, the rug near the sunny window, the bathtub—but no trace of him. He vanishes in plain sight. He doesn’t go away. He just blends into the surroundings in silence. He might be near a leg under the dining room table. He might sit quietly by the door to the garage, and most elusive of all, he might go into the front office which I never use except to store some records. He just sits there on the floor, wondering how long it will take me to figure out where he is. If Baxter feels sorry for me during this search for the obvious, he sometimes will answer when I call his name, but only after some time has passed. After all, he has to win this game by proudly prancing across my path as if to say, “I was there all the time. What’s wrong with you?” This is his version of hide and seek, but we never take turns at different sides in the game. He is always hiding, and I am always seeking. He eventually wins, and I have a good chuckle.

God plays hide and seek sometimes. Like Baxter, He can disappear by quietly blending into the familiar surroundings. Because they are familiar, we think we know what’s there, so we often don’t take a second look. But hidden in the common places of our lives, there’s a quiet presence, blending into the surroundings but adding an uncommon dimension to them. We need to search for this silent divine partner with the tools at our disposal.

One of those tools is attention. We need to give God our attention. We live with so many distractions that we sometimes don’t realize how we have lost our focus. We just go from one thing to another, checking off our “to do” list, and feeling exhausted in the end, wondering what we accomplished. God hides at times to get us to focus on Him. When we seek the Lord earnestly, our other responsibilities fall into place in their proper priority. We take on one thing at a time and make progress step by step, instead of scattering our energies and getting nowhere. Making God the center of our lives puts everything else in its proper place for our attention and energy.

Another tool is our imagination, so that we can focus our attention differently. If we keep looking in the same way in the same places, we may come up empty. The hidden God calls us in a new direction. God is where we least expect Him at times—in routine transactions with others, in the drudgery of daily or weekly chores, at the dinner table on a work day, or cleaning up afterwards with the family. We miss Him because we get lost in getting the job done. We forget to look at all that is happening as we go about the tasks of living. For instance, at the checkout counter, do we notice the people and what they do to serve us? Sure it’s their job, but it’s also a meeting place where God shows us how to create a more civil and humane community. The same holds true for driving, raising legitimate complaints, and helping others. It’s all in the way we do these things, and not just in getting them done. God is hidden in our patience, our courtesy, our ability to listen and even disagree without rancor. His presence can surprise us when we enjoy what we do because we do it together with a purpose bigger than any single person’s desires. When we work for God’s Kingdom rather than our own, everyone prospers with a happier way of life.

So look around and try some new approaches in how we go about our daily life chores. God is playing hide and seek with us, and we may not realize it. Look for His holy presence in what we have to do, and we may be surprised at where and how He turns up. While God always wins, we can enjoy the diving comedy and our role in it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Easter Meows: Catnip Magic

Catnip does strange things to cats. Baxter craves it at times. He rubs his head over it. He eats it. He lies on it. If it is in a toy, he bats it around, grabs it, and then bites it. Catnip will settle his stomach if it is a little off. It will calm him if he is agitated. It stimulates his energy to go a little crazy. It is a universal elixir for Baxter, balancing out whatever seems to be throwing him off his well-rounded life of eating, sleeping, purring, meowing and starting all that over again.

Catnip is a natural herb. It doesn’t have to be mixed or synthesized, refrigerated or cooked, and it can be used through multiple delivery systems—eaten, smelled, packaged or loose. It comes dried or fresh growing. It is very versatile yet quite effective. It seems to cure what ails the cat, at least for a while, and according to Baxter, it is worth a try to improve anything from arthritis to the ordinary blues. Catnip is the universal cat medicine, the aspirin of the cat world. It takes away the pain and gives a little relief from the wear and tear of daily living. It stimulates both euphoria and peace according to the needs of the nipper. It’s a gift to the cat world.

The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to our world. It was released through Christ’s death and resurrection, and once set loose, it cannot be contained until the whole world is saved. Like catnip for cats, the Spirit provides what is needed to cope with the vicissitudes of life faithfully. You see, life is so unpredictable and varied that one size can’t fit all. To grow in faith we have to respond to whatever life brings to bear upon us. Sometimes that calls for steadying ourselves to remain constant in our practices and understanding. At other times, the Spirit provides us the courage and strength to meet a new challenge, to reach out in faith in a new way, still uncharted and untested. The early Church in the Acts of the Apostles knew both of these effects of the Spirit. It stood up to the challenges of some of the synagogue officials trying to stop this new preaching about Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophets. It supported Saint Paul in his mission to the Gentiles, and brought Saint Peter around to seeing this work as an extension of God’s ways in the post-Easter world. The Holy Spirit is the gyrocompass we use to navigate the balance beam on which we are asked to walk in our path through life. It gives our spirit energy and strength, a source of healing and forgiveness, and an attitude that keeps us upright on the beam while we move forward.

As we approach the close of the Easter season, let us open the door to the Holy Spirit in our lives. Through the Spirit we live the mystery of death and resurrection each day. Through this Spirit our hearts take on the attitude of God towards others, and our actions become the work of God through us. Through this Spirit we share a communion of life with each other that is greater and deeper than family or friendship.

So don’t forget the Spirit. It’s God’s natural elixir for us to live holy lives. Although Baxter might not think so, it is better than catnip for a balanced life of discipleship. Pray for the Spirit in the Church. “Come, Holy Spirit, fills the hearts of Thy Faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your Love.”