by Maria Evans
Our Gospel reading today reminds us that “living in a world of conflict and turmoil” are nothing new–nor is “living with the slings and arrows of disappointment in our relationships with those we love.” As fellow Café writer Leslie Scoopmire mentioned in her post a few days ago, we are two of three, slated, God willing, to be ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri in just a few short days. Both of us, along with our fellow ordinand Andrew Suitter, have enjoyed a close relationship throughout formation–so close, in fact, that it has caught the attention of folks in the diocese (we’re known as “The Littermates”) and part of it is because each of us in our own way, has experienced rejection and conflict as part of our respective formation processes. We learned quickly to share with one another rather than simply pass the pain along in hidden ways. All the same, it can be a struggle on some days to find the grace in tough situations.
Jesus pulls no punches when he explains what the life of a disciple is like on its roughest days. Discipleship is clearly not for the faint of heart. Sometimes, it’s because of things so far out of our control–wars, economic collapse, natural disasters–it would be ridiculous to assume some sort of magical protection from merely being Christian. Other forms of conflict and rejection come from places we mistakenly assume it’s a “given” that people “ought to behave better than that”–family and faith community. The fact of the matter is we all live our earthly lives as God’s good creation with some very human flaws–and when we’re being watched as “Christian”, not a single one of us risks rejection, at the very least. None of us will ever be able to escape days where we’re hungry, angry, anxious, lonely, or tired–nor will be able to escape the days where others are struggling with those same emotions. There will be days when we will have a hard time saying “Here I am, for you called me” or we’ll fear our cry will never be heard among the noise. We don’t always have miraculous days like that day right after the Pentecost miracle, which we read about in our Epistle today–in fact, some of us are still waiting for a day like that.
Yet…every one of us live in this world as littermates in a very large, strange litter…and we have no clue how those very same uncontrollable circumstances also have the potential to shape us for good, even if the powers doing the shaping are accidental, indifferent, or, yes…even evil.
I have been reminded of this in these past few weeks as some circumstances beyond my control presented me with a litter I didn’t want or expect–the four kittens born under my deck about 9 weeks ago.
Last fall, someone dumped two cats out at my place–a tuxedo and a calico–and the calico seemed especially young, practically a kitten herself. Both were…well…pretty wild. I wouldn’t quite say “feral”, but definitely wild. As I live out in the county, and not in town, there’s no Animal Control to call, neither cat would ever get close enough for me to catch them, and they both eluded the live trap I own, even baited with food, that I use to catch pesky raccoons when they get destructive. So, I knew they were on their own if they planned on surviving. Evidently they were good hunters, as they were still here in the spring. About a month and a half ago, I discovered they were good at something else. My two dogs suddenly were obsessed with being out on my front deck and sniffing around–and as I stood there and listened, I realized why–it was because of the faint “Mew, mew mew,” under the floorboards! Mama Calico had designated the space beneath my front deck as a Center of Excellence in Feline Labor and Delivery.
Here’s my confession: I have never been much of a cat person. Oh, I don’t dislike cats, I’ve even owned a couple (or rather, they showed up and owned me); it’s just I understand dogs so much better, and I seem more geared to think in Dog-think. It is mental work for me to think in Cat-think.
Yet, at the same time, I was faced with an opportunity, if I chose to see it as such. Because Mama Calico was insatiably hungry, she started coming up to me–even rubbing up to me…and the more I pondered the situation, I realized the chance for “good” to come out of a chance (and not especially good) situation was presenting itself. Mama Calico might be tamed enough to get her to the vet and get her fixed…and the kittens are still blank slates. They can be socialized, and go to new homes (and better homes than one with two dogs and someone with no hope in ever becoming a “cat lady.”) But the “socializer?”…well…there was no choice for it to be anyone but me. I did not want this job…but there it was…and it wasn’t going to happen if I closed my eyes to it.
At first, it was seriously not fun. It involved wearing gloves and long sleeves in 95 degree weather, and lots of hissing and spitting (in fact, one of the kittens ended up being named Spitfire b/c she had a lot of hiss in such a tiny little body!) and Mama yowling and me wondering if Mama was going to take after me for bothering her babies. It was the expense of buying cat food and the hassle of hosing off the deck (wild kittens don’t understand litterboxes when the whole outdoors is one big litterbox) and the stress of keeping the dogs away from the front deck.
Yet, after a while, we could coexist out on the deck, me with my coffee and them with their cat food, and I could actually start to enjoy their kitten shenanigans, and I actually liked that now and then Mama was letting me pet her. I have a great deal of pride that three of the four kittens are already at their forever homes, and the last one will be moving to his soon. I have hope I’ll be able to get Mama fixed as she comes running when I have food. This is clearly a different “me” than me of 20 years ago. The younger me would have torn the deck apart to get at the kittens, stuffed the whole family into a crate amid scratches and bites, and carted the lot of them to the Humane Society as fast as possible…and they very possibly would have been destroyed as “un-adoptable.”
Instead, I am learning our definition of “our litter” is too small, when we leave it all up to ourselves. When we begin to see all of humanity–and maybe all of the non-human created world, to boot–as “our litter”–something changes in us…and it’s precisely the “something” that hooks us to God. We forget about the power of grace–until it comes in on “little cat feet.”
When is a time that something you didn’t want or need, changed you for the better, simply by saying “Here I am,” above the noise of the world?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as a Transitional Deacon at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.