Tag Archives: Cats

Margins and Edges

There is important wisdom to be gleaned from those on the margins. Vulnerable human beings put us more in touch with the truth of our limited and messy human condition, marked as it is by fragility, incompleteness and inevitable struggle. The experience of God from that place is one of absolutely gratuitous mercy and empowering love. People on the margins, who are less able to and less invested in keeping up appearances, often have an uncanny ability to name things as they are. Standing with them can help situate us in the truth and helps keep us honest.

Sister Pat Farrell OSF at the 2012 LCWR Assembly

It seems to be a recurring theme with me that God appears nearer when we are undeniably fragile, incomplete and messy. When life is good, and we have our health and strength, it is harder, sometimes, to become aware of God’s constant presence.

No matter. God is faithful if we are not. In the words of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, we acknowledge both our own fragility, etc. (in Pureland Buddhism, our bombu nature) and God’s unfailing mercy.

Richard Rohr, another Franciscan, wrote:

The edge of things is a liminal space – a very sacred place where guardian angels are especially available and needed. The edge is a holy place, or as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there. To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return. It is a prophetic position, not a rebellious or antisocial one. When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honour, you are in a very auspicious position. You are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.

The challenge is to maintain that liminal space as a home, in the midst of present happiness, without, as some artists, writers and musicians have found necessary, wrecking one’s life and loves in order not to drift into complacent, fruitless mediocrity. Perhaps it is not a challenge after all. Perhaps it is enough simply to be aware of the fragility, incompleteness and inevitable struggle of the world in which we live – the turning seasons, our aging bodies, even the dear cat, still such a kitten at heart, beginning slightly to slow down in middle age, spending less time abroad and more asleep on the bed as I write, living close to us in the warmth of our shared and transient mortality. That is enough.

Live up to the Light thou hast…

The first gleam of light, ‘the first cold light of morning’ which gave promise of day with its noontide glories, dawned on me one day at meeting, when I had been meditating on my state in great depression. I seemed to hear the words articulated in my spirit, ‘Live up to the light thou hast, and more will be granted thee.’ Then I believed that God speaks to man by His Spirit. I strove to lead a more Christian life, in unison with what I knew to be right, and looked for brighter days, not forgetting the blessings that are granted to prayer.

Caroline Fox, Quaker Faith & Practice 26.04

The experience of Pureland Buddhism is that we develop appreciation. This is not just for what others have given us, or for the world we inhabit, though these are important. The central practices and teachings are grounded in an attitude of appreciation that goes beyond the worldly to the transcendent. The practice is deeply rooted in the sense of other-ness, an appreciation of the reality of a measureless beneficent presence beyond the limits of the self-world. This practice… centres on devotion to Amida Buddha, the immeasurable expression of Buddha in the universe. It is a practice that expresses deep joy and gratitude, that reaches out in the wistful longing expressed by yugen, and that gratefully allows the practitioner to rest in the knowledge that despite their imperfections, they are blessed.

Caroline Brazier, The Other Buddhism

We have seen that the Jesus Prayer involves body, mind and spirit – the whole of man. If the whole person is  given to God in prayer, then it reflects the greatest commandment of all, to love… The cosmic nature of the prayer means that the believer lives as a human being in solidarity with all other human beings, and with the animal creation, together with the whole created order (the cosmos). All this is drawn into and affected by the prayer. One believer’s prayers send out vibrations and reverberations that increase the power of divine Love in the cosmos.

Br. Ramon SSF, Praying The Jesus Prayer (Marshall Pickering Christian Spirituality Series, now sadly out of print)

So often we despair, feeling little, and isolated, and unable to help in the face of the vast and manifest suffering of our fellow creatures, animal and human. We know that we can love, and yet it seems such a little thing. The tears we weep from love seem so small, and impotent; yet they are salty, and not one of them is lost (Psalm 56).

We are not alone: we are connected at the deepest level of what we are. In mind, with all the years of others’ thoughts, and words, and music that have gone to make us who we are; in body, with all that is made – we are, literally, stardust; in spirit, with Spirit itself and so with each other. The Light that is the very Ground of Being streams through us all. All who live. Look into a cat’s eyes. Listen to the sparrows. Kiss your lover’s hand. Here is God.

Liminal states

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I am, like many bloggers it seems, fond of cats. It’s not only their beauty, nor their particular brand of self-possessed affection, but their wholeheartedness that touches me. Cats don’t do things by halves. Asleep, they are among the most peaceful of animals; awake, their alertness and one-pointed attention put to shame the most vigilant of humans. And yet, cats are liminal in a way we scarcely understand, at least as adults. The sleeping cat can be fully awake, totally focused well within a second if danger, or prey, makes the slightest sound. The most alert of cats can move to inscrutable reverie between breaths.

Alan Watts, in What Is Tao?, writes of cats climbing trees, and of how easily and fluidly they cope with falling, dropping down completely relaxed, and landing lightly without harm. He goes on to say,

In the same way, it is the philosophy of the Tao that we are all falling off a tree, at every moment of our lives. As a matter of fact, the moment we were born we were kicked off a precipice and we are falling, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. So instead of living in a state of chronic tension, and clinging to all sorts of things that are actually falling with us because the whole world is impermanent, be like a cat. Don’t resist it.

It seems to me that our “minding the light” in worship finds us in a state of mind a cat might appreciate. There are tides in silence, an ebb and flow in our hearts’ openness to the Spirit. The Meeting moves with these tides, the passage of them quite palpable between us. It is almost by definition a liminal state: the human in us become defenceless, open, relaxed, that of God within us each alive, alert to the Light itself, to the very presence and intent of God.

(Photo: Mike Farley)