Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Baxter loves to look out the window. He has different reactions to the view. Sometimes when the birds are active, he is darting about, ears perked, chirping and pawing at the window. If another cat comes into the yard, he goes ballistic. This is serious business for him. He stalks it, and if the critter decides to come face to face on the glass with Baxter, then it’s war. Baxter hisses, spits, claws at the pane and gets thoroughly upset, remaining agitated long after the fellow feline has moved on.

But sometimes Baxter just sits quietly and stares. I don’t know what he is seeing, but he seems to find a view that brings him peace and contentment. He will stay this way for a long time, if he is undisturbed. He almost falls into a trance. If I come up to him on the windowsill and pet him at these times, he purrs and purrs. He’s the sight and sound of complete tranquility.

Perhaps we need to find this kind of view for ourselves. Especially as we enter into the hustle and bustle of preparations for the Christmas holiday, we can get lost in all the planning and activity. There is so much to do that we hurry through life doing it all. We forget the reason for the season. We forget to look for the marks of Christmas in the world around us -- peace, joy, wonder, blessing. We see only all the other cats of Christmas invading our territory at the grocery store, the mall, or on the road, and our dander is raised. Why are they in my way? How dare them compete with me for the same stuff!

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” but we have to look for it. We can’t see this Christ if we are preoccupied with ourselves and our agenda. We need to clear the view of distractions from our likes and dislikes, our social obligations and society’s expectations, and look for the beauty that lies hidden in all the hassles. Stop and stare at the quiet wonder of a soft snowfall. Listen to the silence when everyone has gone to bed. Feel the warmth of a nice cup of tea or cocoa. Appreciate the kind word, the courteous gesture, the heartfelt greeting, the hopeful songs of the season. These are the signs that He lives among us, sharing our lot and lightening its burdens. When we take the time to recognize them, they calm us, fascinate us, and open for us a new world where peace, joy, wonder and blessing are still possible.

Follow Baxter’s example. Look outside your world, and see the small but wonderful beauty of the divine.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Baxter can’t tell time. I wish he could because he has no idea when it is time to eat. When he feels hungry he wants to eat. It doesn’t matter what the schedule for eating is. If he feels that his stomach is empty, he wants his craving satisfied, and he takes no excuses for why he isn’t being fed. He cries, drags the feeding dish, rubs up against my legs, and stares me down, all in an attempt to get what he wants. When I try to explain to him that he has to wait, he ignores my words. No clock is going to tell Baxter when to eat. His internal clock is the only one he reads, and when it is set on empty, he wants it reset to full. Baxter works on a three period day: feeding time, sleeping time, and getting ready to sleep or eat. That’s it. No explanations needed or accepted.

Although we can and do tell time, we sometimes act like Baxter when we are looking for something to satisfy our lives. We don’t want to wait. We want immediate gratification for our need, and we can’t understand when others can’t or won’t deliver it to us. We get impatient with ourselves or others, and we can become so focused on what we desire that nothing else seems to matter. Until we get what we are looking for, we are dissatisfied and frustrated with what we have. We get ahead of ourselves and lose a sense of the good and valuable things we have at our disposal now.

But sometimes we have to wait on God. He will not work on our schedule, but He sets
His own timetable for His blessings and grace in our lives. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and sometimes God’s delays later reveal a purpose and meaning we couldn’t grasp when we wanted our satisfaction and happiness. Waiting teaches us so many things. We learn that everything doesn’t have to happen at once. We can deal with our issues one at a time. We learn that it takes time to mature and gain insight. The quick fix or easy answer is sometimes shortsighted. We learn that waiting isn’t a waste of time. It is time to take in the bigger picture, to include more people in solving the problems, to test out the possibilities before we commit to one, to face things calmly and carefully. Taking time to reflect well on what we want is never time wasted. It is time to measure our desires against God’s desires for our true happiness.

Because he can’t tell time, Baxter is forced to act on impulse to get what he wants. Knowing there is time, we can place it on our side and use it to live better and more graciously. Take the time God gives us to know Him, ourselves and each other in His light, not to hurry through life but appreciate its meaning and savor its richness and bounty. Baxter, you don’t know what you’re missing!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Last week, Baxter had an appointment at the veterinarian to have his weight checked. I don’t know how he figured out that he was going, but he did. As soon as I put on my jacket for the trip, he took off and hid under the bed. I tried to call him out, but he didn’t respond. I tried bribing him with treats, but he wasn’t biting. I tried a firm, scolding tone of voice, but to no end. Finally, I had to move the bed and corner him, pick up his eighteen plus pounds, and shove him in the pet carrier for the twenty minute trip. He was not happy. He cried and cried the whole way there. Maybe he knew he would flunk the weight loss contest, or maybe he didn’t like the other cats that were in the waiting room. Whatever it was, Baxter was not subtle about his upset over the visit. The shambles left from chasing him around the bedroom was clear evidence of that. However, once he was in the examining room, he resigned himself, and became quiet and docile with the doctor.

We get that way sometimes as well. We try to hide from facing our issues. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid them. When we are finally forced to face them, we may at first get upset about the whole situation. We blame friends and family for our predicament; we blame the experts who are trying to help us; we blame “life” for our bad luck and its woes. We do everything we can to hide from our problem and to avoid taking steps to address it. We fume and fuss until we are cornered by the issue, and then, we might resign ourselves reluctantly to doing something about it. In the meantime, the world around us may be in a shambles for our stubborn recalcitrance.

What that drives us to this state may vary. It may be a drug or alcohol addiction. It may be a tattered relationship. It may be financial stress or job tension. Maybe we are worried about our children’s suspicious behavior. Whatever it may be, hiding the problem from ourselves and others doesn’t solve it. It only increases the anxiety. Our imaginations start to think the worst, and we increase our worry through fear that someone might find out about our issue. Hiding in place doesn’t fool anyone, not even ourselves. It just delays the inevitable.

Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb when everyone else was worried about the stench. He named the woman at the well’s marriage issue when she said nothing about it. He told Martha to calm down when she was upset with Mary’s work ethic. Jesus called out His own follower when that disciple objected to the woman who anointed His feet. He told the Zebedee brothers that it was not for Him to give them privileged places in the Kingdom, except the place of sacrifice and suffering through service. Jesus speaks to the issues of people’s lives in His ministry. Whether it is about faith and trust, honesty, envy and jealousy, greed or ambition, Jesus won’t allow people to hide their true motivations behind pious words and gestures. He exposes people to their own hearts, so that He can change them with His grace.

For Baxter, the scale doesn’t lie. He can’t hide from its numbers and what they indicate he needs to do. For us, it is the Lord who confronts us with the truth of our lives and what we must do to live faithfully and fruitfully. There is no hiding from it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Baxter has his sensitive spots: under the chin, behind the ear, on the back of his neck. When I scratch these areas, he just begins to purr and purr, his eyes roll back in his head, and he stays still in a trance-like state for a long time. But one spot Baxter would guard carefully from any touch or stroke is his belly. He would jump and run at first, if I tried to get near his soft, white underside. I later read that, unlike dogs, cats’ bellies are very sensitive, and they guard them fiercely. They feel vulnerable there, and they don’t allow anyone near for fear of getting hurt. I knew I had Baxter’s trust and confidence when, after a few years, he would roll over and have me rub his belly while he offered a dreamy purr. We were safe with each other, and he let me know it.

We all have our sensitive spots. I am not talking about places on our bodies, but places in our lives where we don’t allow just anyone access. These may be cherished memories of good times now past. These may be feelings of anger and resentment that we fear another will use against us. These may be failures we recognize but hide from others’ attention and judgment. They may be treasured mementoes which we think appear cheap and insignificant to others, but hold precious thoughts and feelings for us. Whatever they may be, these sensitive areas are guarded from others because we don’t want them abused by public notoriety or exploited for selfish gains. We hold them in private and keep them secret.

Yet, it is precisely these vulnerable spots in our lives that have the potential to form bonds for us. Think about it. On formal, official, dressed up occasions at work or for organizations we support, everyone acts properly but the conversation is conventional and staged. “How are you? What are the children doing now? Where are you living, working, vacationing, retiring?” It’s nice talk, for sure, but nothing that matters much for people who may never see each other again. We keep the sensitive subjects off limits because there is no opportunity to follow through with casual acquaintances.

But we need to connect on a deeper level. We need to let someone know what we cherish, what matters to us, how we feel about our successes and failures, who holds a dear place in our biographies. Trusting another with this kind of information about us connects us in a way that is strong and lasting. We become friends, confidants, soul brothers or sisters.

Trust God with your heart. Let Him into your life’s most sensitive secrets. He listens carefully and respectfully. He won’t condemn you for your confessions of wrong-doing. He will only forgive you and help you to be a better, more responsible person in the future. Trust God with your happy moments as well as your sad ones. He will expand your happiness, and lighten the burden of your sadness.

Until we become intimate with God, attending Eucharist is a formality we play out each Sunday. Once we allow God to touch the secret, sensitive parts of our lives, Eucharist becomes a meal full of divine warmth, gratitude and closeness. He who died on the cross and rose from the dead has nothing to hide. He invites us to touch His wounds and share our wounds with His. He offers us His hopes for a redeemed world and shows us our place in it. He reveals the glory of a life transformed in grace and calls us to the same transformation. If we are open with God, we form a bond with Him that is deeper and more lasting than any human contact we have made.

When God touches our sensitive spots, we don’t purr. We just find peace.