Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Things Change

Baxter doesn't play much anymore. Occasionally, he will bat around a toy filled with catnip, but usually this lasts for only a short time. He is much more settled and calm than in his younger years. He has his daily routines. He likes looking out the window, playing fetch for treats, and once in a while, exploring the basement or garage to be sure it is still there. Generally, the ordinary is enough for him. He isn’t looking for a new adventure all the time as he did when he was a kitten. He is happy with the normal things that keep him going through the day. He has matured from a mischievous kitten and feisty, young feline, to a peaceful, reflective older cat.

We change too. Sometimes we don’t notice it happening, but we do. We lose interest in certain activities, and gain it in others. We make new friends, not to dismiss the old ones, but our work, neighborhood or interests bring different people into our lives. We change with our physical health. Sickness or injury slows us down. Health and fitness charge our energy, and both will change our disposition, for better or worse. Families change too. People are born; others grow up and leave the nest; loved ones die; part of the family moves away; marriages bring new members into the fold. All of these occurrences change our lives and us in the process. We sometimes try to resist the change, but even that response will change us.

God is in this movement. He has shown us in Jesus’ life how He moves with us. From birth to death and beyond, Jesus’ story unfolds like our life stories. He is on the move to different places, with different people, in different conditions of life. He has His constant companions, but even these change in the course of the story. Sometimes they are skeptical, sometimes open to His teachings, sometimes amazed and sometimes disappointed. Finally, they abandon Him. Jesus encounters praise and admiration, controversy and opposition. Even His prayer changes. At times He goes off on His own for peace and reassurance from the Father, but later He invites His disciples to share His agony in prayer in the garden. Jesus is caught in the same stream of human life we experience, and here is where we see Him reveal God to us.

There is a deep, divine mystery unfolding through the changes accounted in the Gospel stories. Sometimes it is obvious, for instance, in Jesus’ miracles where God’s power breaks forth. Sometimes it is subtle, like Jesus’ forgiveness and parables. The disciples sense this presence, but they are not sure what to make of it most of the time. It has so many facets as the story moves on, and just when they think they understand how God is at work in this man, they are surprised, baffled or confounded. The mystery moves with and through the story which reaches its climax in Christ’s death and resurrection. But then it continues to move and change, as the Spirit leads the Church to reach out to new peoples in foreign lands beyond the Law of Judaism. These changes are not the enemy of the faith, but the vehicle to broaden and deepen the disciples’ faith as they have to deal with the new circumstances of their life with God.

And the story continues in our day. The same divine mystery moves through our lives, and we must learn what the first disciples had to learn. Do not be afraid of the changes. Do not concentrate on what is lost from the past, but look to what God is doing now and into the future. Cherish what we were given previously as a life vest to support us in the waters we face now. But keep moving with the current for we will discover it is full of grace, new life and hope as Mary did at the Annunciation and the whole Church did at Easter and Pentecost.

Things have changed for Baxter. He plays less and cuddles more. We understand each other’s ways better. We anticipate each other’s habits, likes and dislikes. The same kind of thing can happen between ourselves and God, if we move with the changes life brings and discover the grace they hold.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Baxter is on cat weightwatchers. He goes to the vet for a weigh-in every month. We are making progress, but it hasn’t been easy.

I had to reduce the portions that Baxter eats twice a day from a third of a cup of kibble to a quarter of a cup. However, the vet told me that I had to do this gradually, because if you cut an older cat’s diet  suddenly, it could develop “fatty liver” which is the precursor to big health problems. So I tried to figure out how to make this reduction in food at a well measured and accurate pace. The measuring cup was too easy to over or under do. Then I got this idea. Measure out Baxter’s former portion of kibble and gradually remove some in a controlled way. So I began to count the number of kibble I would remove at each feeding. I needed to get down to 25 less, but I began with 3 for a few days, then 5,8,10,12, 15,. . .to 25. It took about six weeks to get to the desired portion size, but it was worth it. At his first weighing after a month, Baxter gained 2 oz, but the next month, he lost 5 oz. There are no signs of any health problems , and he has become a bit more active—while a little more cranky from less food.

Counting kibble was tedious and inconvenient at times. I told myself that others wouldn’t believe that I was doing this. Why did I do it? I want Baxter to thrive and live as long and as good a life as he can. But these wishes aren’t realized without a cost. I have to care for him, if I care about him.

The same holds for our faith in God which we experience in each other. Faith is first not an abstract idea about the source of the universe or of the rules by which we live. It is primarily a relationship we have with Jesus Christ that we experience in our relationships with each other. Relationships make demands upon us. They take our time and effort to help, to celebrate and commiserate together, to plan events, to express our concern, to share our joys and sorrows. They take care to respect each other and to be sensitive to each other’s priorities and soft spots. All this demands patience with each other. Sometimes things get heavy before we start losing the baggage that weighs us down. Honest, genuine relationships don’t happen quickly. We have to build trust, sometimes by trial and error. So trust needs forgiveness to grow and mature. It can all get very tedious and inconvenient, but it’s worth it.

Hidden in the struggle and effort to love each other is the God, Who is Love. He is the source of those attitudes and values that make us one—generosity, forgiveness, goodness, helpfulness, positive regard, gratitude. We cannot sustain these qualities in our relationships on our own. We need to draw on a higher power, a greater good, a transcendent love unto death to keep us caring about each other. Faith allows us to
see these things and bring them to bear in the way we live with each other. That is how Christ is present in our midst.

Baxter is on the way to a leaner life after some careful calculations to get him there. As Jesus shows us, we can be on the way to eternal life, if we are careful with the way we treat each other. We can count on

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sleeping with One Eye Open

Baxter has two ways of sleeping. Sometimes he is dead to the world. He curls in a ball, hiding his eyes under his paw, and remains undisturbed by any outside sights or sounds. He makes his own noises in this deep sleep. They are something of a cross between a groan and a snore, a strange sound from another world. At other times, Baxter sleeps with one eye open. He seems to be in a trance-like state, but he snaps out of it in an instant. The slightest sound or flash of light will have him sitting up, looking at what is going on and what he might be missing. At these times, he is on the ready to jump and run to the window, the food dish or the door, wherever the alert signals. Although he may be resting, he is in touch with what is going on around him and ready to respond, if it peaks his interest.

Insomnia is a problem many people experience. They can’t sleep at all, and this condition makes them anxious and tired much of the time. Others suffer from narcolepsy. They fall asleep at the drop of a hat in any situation, even driving a car or operating machinery. This condition, needless to say, is a dangerous one for the person with the problem and for others who may bear its consequences.

Faith calls us to sleep like cats not like human beings with sleeping problems. On the one hand, it calls us to a deep sense of peace and security. Our lives rest in God’s hands, and we can be sure that He will not harm
them. We can trust in God and give ourselves over to His loving providence. We can live with a sense that “all will be well”, as Julian of Norwich wrote, because in Christ death and sin have been conquered by grace. While we face problems and difficulties daily, we won’t be overwhelmed by them, if we see them in faith.

On the other hand, our faith also calls us to stay alert in our world for opportunities to see God’s hand and cooperate with it. Sleep with one eye open to the wonder of creation’s beauty, to the needs of our brothers and sisters, and to the possibility of a new way for God to speak and act in our midst. God’s love is not meant to make us complacent or lost in a stupor without regard for anything else. It’s meant to energize us, to set us on alert for what is needed to advance God’s Kingdom in our present situation. But if we want truly to do God’s work, we must set about it without anxiety or preoccupations about how to get it all done successfully. Whenever we minister, we rest in God while we work to serve others. This is the only way our service keeps from being self-serving.

Lord, that His peace and care might rejuvenate us, and learn to relax with one eye open, that His call to service might not be missed. That’s how Mary and Martha from the Scripture story come together. That’s contemplation in action. That’s grace and works in harmony. It’s a key to true happiness. Wake up, Baxter!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Grateful for Surprises

I didn’t choose to be a cat person. It was given to me. I came to live in a house a while back which had a cat as part of the fixtures. I didn’t know it at the time. I just moved in and found this cat on the back porch that wouldn’t leave. Someone was feeding her there, so it is no wonder she hung around. Nevertheless, I was not a cat person at the time. In fact, I began by ignoring the critter, hoping it would disappear. Of course, with a free meal offered daily near the premises, why would it? Time passed. The seasons changed, and the warmth of summer’s green turned into the frozen waste of winters white. The cat remained.

One night in late November, I came home after a long and difficult meeting. It was blowing and snowing outside, and I just wanted to get in the house and relax. Sure enough, the cat was there on the back porch, but she was obviously not happy about being there this night. The cold, wind and snow were taking its toll on her, and she kept crying and pacing outside after I shut the door. I tried to ignore her pleas, but I couldn’t. Yes, I weakened and let her into the house, and, as they say, the rest is history.

“Gatto” and I had six pleasant years together, filled with stories about her antics and habits like Baxter has his. In fact, Gatto opened the door for Baxter. I would never have considered being owned by a cat in my own house, if Gatto had not come along. She was an unexpected gift that made me want to give Baxter a home after Gatto died.

We all receive surprise presents in our lives. Some come with planned occasions like birthdays and holidays. Others come and don’t appear to be gifts at first. They may be seen as burdens or unwanted responsibilities. They may demand a change in our routine or ways of doing things. We often resist these impositions, thinking they are not fair or we are not equipped to handle them. But sometimes they prove to be blessings in disguise. They bring out dimensions of ourselves that are good but have lain dormant within us. They challenge us to grow in ways we hadn’t planned or even desired. They focus our attention away from ourselves and our troubles to offer care and concern for another. They expand our horizons on what life has to offer and what we can do to live with a more positive and generous attitude. They are gifts from God covered in unfamiliar wrappings.

As Thanksgiving approaches, reflect upon the blessings that have strayed into your life—an unlikely friendship, an illness that changes your outlook for the better, an unexpected apology, a surprise visit, a plea for help that helps you more. These are God’s fingers rearranging the relationships that knit our lives together in His grace. We may not see them at the time, but their effects are, nonetheless, felt.

Looking back in gratitude deepens our appreciation for how God works with us, and alerts us to look for these kind of surprises in the future. They build on themselves, like Gatto paved the way for Baxter. It’s how God changes our hearts, opens the way to new life, and prepares us for an eternity full of grace-filled surprises.