by Carina Julig
Over the previous summer I went on a trip with my Episcopal + Lutheran campus ministry group to Israel and Palestine, the first time I had been out of the country in almost 10 years. We were there to visit the region’s holy sites but also to learn about the current reality of the land. I had no idea what to expect but was excited to explore the Holy Land.
As we arrived at our guest house in Jerusalem in the middle of the night, I was heartened to see a demure grey cat sitting in the front garden. I was exhausted after a day of travel and seeing such a familiar creature was reassuring.
I have been a cat lover my whole life, and my family has two cats of our own. I often joke that the hardest part of going away to college was having to leave them behind, which is more truth than fiction. Some of my friends don’t understand my love for cats, saying they’re too standoffish or mean, but I cherish their independence and the happiness that comes with winning a cat’s trust.
When our group went out into Jerusalem the next day I realized the cat at the guest house wasn’t an anomaly—they were everywhere. There are plenty of stray cats in the U.S. but nothing like this—through all the places we traveled in Israel and Palestine, cats seemed to be everywhere I looked.
During our trip I was awed by the many holy sites and ancient places we went to, but I continued to notice the cats that we saw along the way. The small calico at the Church of the Annunciation in Bethlehem. The fearful tabby looking through a window at me in the Aida refugee camp. The grey cat sitting near a group of IDF soldiers at the Haram al-Sharif complex. The cat hiding from the sun under a parked car in Hebron. And along with the things we were there to see, I took photos of them too.
My trip mates regarded my feline fascination with amused indifference for the most part. I got teased for following a cat around when we were at the Dome of the Rock. To paraphrase what one of my friends said, “we’re at one of the most stunning religious buildings in the world and you’re trying to pet a cat?” I don’t regret it.
It did make me wonder, why exactly do I love cats so much, anyways? And ultimately, I realized it’s because in them, I get a glimpse of the divine. So ordinary and yet so enchanting, cats are God’s creation just as surely as you and I. Seeing the strays eke out a life in the desert of the Holy Land was a reminder that God surrounds us even in the hardship and mundanity of our life. Seeing them reminds me to stop and appreciate the beauty and abundance of the world God gave us.
As scripture says, “are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God.” Just as surely as God does not forget about His cats and sparrows, He does not forget about us. And that is truly a blessing.
Carina Julig is an avid cat lover and a journalism and political science student at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has written for the Colorado Episcopalian and is the communications director for the Bread + Belonging campus ministry. Follow her on twitter