January 2, 2011
Good evening, friends,
Epiphany arrives January 6. I have been thinking about this change of season in the church year, and the biblical story of the Wise Men who came to visit the Child, bearing kingly gifts to honor Him. The story I want to share with you, however, is not about those mysterious visitors who came riding camels and looking for the new King.
This story does include a long journey (I visited my friends in northern Wyoming over Christmas). And while the story does pivot around gifts and the great gift of the Child Himself, the main character is a cat whose given family name is Boots.
At one level, Boots is an appropriate name: this cat has four white paws that stand out in beautiful distinction from his thick dark fur. However, the name “Boots” does not begin to suggest the splendid length of his distinguished whiskers, nor the emperor-like air with which from his chosen throne on the back of an upholstered chair Boots oversees the lives of those mortals whom he permits to share his living space.
For reasons his highness did not reveal, Boots invited me into a relationship with him over the week I was a guest in his house. As the relationship progressed, I came to call him Kat rather than the family name Boots, being careful to write Kat with an upper-case K rather than use the ordinary spelling, cat. He seemed pleased with this linguistic recognition of his royal self.
The relationship between Kat and I deepened in mutual respect and inter-specie communication as the week passed. After a day or two, whenever I laid down on the sofa with a book, Kat would come, knead a comfortable nest on my chest, then, with his front paws politely curled, he would lie and purr softly, gazing steadily into my face from a distance of eight to ten inches. Kat had little tolerance for study, however. After permitting me to read for a short interval, he would nudge my book with his head until he had bunted it out of my line of sight.
One day I was reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, The Luminous Web, when Kat pushed it away.
“Now, listen, Kat,” I said, “You’ve got to be fair. If you don’t want me to read, then you’ve got to talk with me about what I’m reading. What do you think of Taylor’s idea about the theological implications of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle?”
There was a pause, then a friendly half-purr, half-growl rumbled deep in Kat’s chest as I continued to rub his head. I interpreted this as Kat’s agreement with my proposal, so I continued to share my response to Taylor’s ideas, then pause to wait for Kat to express his point of view (encouraged to “speak” Kat revealed an astonishingly varied repertoire of sounds). Taking turns politely, I suppose Kat and I “talked” for ten minutes or more, then having reached a satisfactory conclusion despite lack of translator, we mutually agreed to take a nap.
My hostess who had been an amused observer of this interaction commented at dinner that I had reason to be quite happy that it was winter. “If it were summer,” she explained, “Kat would no doubt bring you a field mouse as a gift. He is quite pleased with you and enjoys these conversations.”
I thought about this as I began the lectionary readings for Epiphany.
I gave Kat the best gift I knew to give—hands that loved in gentle touch against his head, and in his ears a language-shaped glimpse of the Creator-God who came as a Baby in order to restore all creation, Kat’s world and mine. Brilliant as Kat is, however, I doubted deeply that he understood my gift.
In turn, had Kat brought me a field mouse and laid it on my chest, I am quite sure I would not have behaved in a fashion that, from Kat’s point of view, demonstrated proper appreciation of the substance and the meaning of his gift.
Those mysterious visitors from that far-away place brought that Divine Toddler gold, frankincense and myrrh, the story tells us. From our human post-Easter viewpoint we read great meaning into these gifts. But I wonder—did that Toddler Who was God incarnate reach with chubby hands for objects that, at the time, seemed merely interesting to that curious young-human mind, Spirit indwelt though it was?
Theological ideas for the Kat? Field mouse for the Professor? Gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Toddler of Jewish peasant parents?
This Epiphany I am thinking that some day the first fruits of that redemption made possible through Easter’s resurrection will change all living creatures into the glorious reality of fully knowing--knowing ourselves, knowing each other, and knowing God in whose light we shall eternally dwell.
Meanwhile we live in the already-not yet of the world in which we are called to give gifts, the best that we can give, to God and to each other. It is not the cost or the social appropriateness of our gifts—it is the homage of our hearts with which we invest them that matters in the end.
How do you plan to pay Epiphany homage this year? What is the intended gift of your heart?
Grateful for Kat, and for the Creation that teaches me about the Creator.
See you next week.