Every evening when the guru sat down to worship, the ashram cat considered himself a welcome participant. But the cat was there to make friends, and his commotion distracted the worshipers (each of them hoping to reach a heightened meditative state and a feeling of oneness with God). Resourcefully, the guru ordered that the cat be tethered to a pole–outside the front door–during evening worship.
After the guru died, the disciples continued to tie the cat to the pole.
This ritual became a habit–the customary routine for everyone at the ashram.
First, tie the cat to the pole, and then proceed into the temple to meditate on God. After several years, the habit hardened into a religious ritual, becoming an integral part of their devotional practice.
In time, no one could meditate until the cat was tied to the pole. Then one day the cat dies. Everyone in the ashram is unnerved, because it has become a considerable religious crisis.
How is it possible to meditate now, without a cat to tie to a pole?!
It is not surprising that the guru’s disciples wrote treatises on the religious and liturgical significance of tying a cat to a pole during worship. I expect that there was even some debate as to the proper breed of cat.
At what point does our worship (our desire for God) become routine?
At what point does our growing (our desire for wholeness and well-being and flourishing) become stale performance?
I return to Robert Capon frequently. Mostly, because it resonates.
“We live like ill-taught piano students. We are so afraid of the flub that will get us in dutch, we don’t hear the music, we only play the right notes.”
At what point do we begin to miss life’s music?
Recently, I’ve seen a few articles about how the pandemic made many of us rethink our stuff. An urge to “downsize.” “We were spending all of our time taking care of our stuff. And stuff doesn’t matter compared to our kids. How can we change our lives drastically?”
Downsizing is always good. But here’s my question: what happens when the cat is gone? There is no doubt that we would be unsettled, unraveled, unnerved. I’ve read books and articles about taking risks–you know, living “without a net”–but it’s much easier said than done.
I know this because I was weaned on the mantra, “We’ve never done it that way before.” You can sense that time in your life when you move from your heart (filled with passion, joy, zeal), to doing your best not to ruffle feathers.
When I was thirteen, I participated in a national preaching contest (Yes, it’s a long and interesting story. Someday I’ll write about it.) The contest was held in San Diego. I was a small-town Michigan boy, thrilled to be in exotic California (my first time on an airplane, and my first time to be smitten by a blond-haired preacher’s daughter). I preached well (as I recall).
Unfortunately, I lost the contest.
Because of flawed theology? No.
Because my presentation was incoherent? No.
I was disqualified because I wore a blue shirt. The judge said (in a sonorous voice) that “a preacher of God’s Word must wear a white shirt.”
Translation: The rules are simple young man, “First, tie the cat to the pole.”
I smile remembering the preaching contest. And to be honest, there’s a little bit of that judge still inside of me. Because there is a fine line between safe (certain) and stuck–which becomes paralysis. It happens when I focus only on the cat. When I see only the cat—procedure and creed, over journey and faith—you know, the “right notes” or the “right answer” or the “right stuff” or “when real life begins”, I miss…
…having my world shaken, opportunity, learning, change, transformation and grace. And I miss wonder, every time.
Actually, I’m a big believer in ritual (or liturgy). But as a choice, not a compulsion (or addiction). In other words, the permission to let moments of grace heal us, carry us, sustain us, inviting us to a bigger world.
Tom Driver (in his book called The Magic of Ritual) says, “to ritualize is to make/utilize a pathway through what would otherwise be unchartered territory.” Unchartered, and thus rather scary, I would imagine. But it is easy, through time and usage, however, to see rituals become less of a pathway, and more of a comforting shelter. And thus, comes the likelihood of tension. Tension arose for those in that ashram because the tying of the cat had become such a comforting shelter, a reassuring part of their daily routine, and in the end, their “primary” pathway to God.
The cat plays to something in our psyche that requires answers and formulas (or more realistically, tidiness).
It makes sense. Because much of my accumulation–comfort, answers, stuff–is predicated on a fear of loss.
But what am I afraid of?
Fear of not having.
Fear of missing out.
Fear of being left behind.
Today, I stopped writing, to sit and watch and marvel at our weather roller coaster. Thunderstorms (very unusual here), our invitation to experience a tropical storm.
Lightening and clapping thunder and a deluge. Much better than TV.
And now, the skies have opened, as if a backdrop shuttled off stage. Now supple blue with an embroidery of clouds. Oh my, speaking of hearing the music.
And this past week Bishop Desmond Tutu (one of my heroes) celebrated his 90th birthday. So, let’s give him the last word. “We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of the sea and to be thrilled with a rose that is bedecked with dew… Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful… and all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things.”
Quote for your week…
I’d much rather lunch alone on a piece of bread, without all your niceties and ceremonies than eat turkey at another man’s table, where I’m obliged to chew softly, to drink sparingly and to wipe my mouth every minute. Sancho (in Don Quixote)
Note: “The Guru’s Cat” story is from The Song of the Bird by Anthony De Mello. The story was adapted and popularized by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love.
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
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In the mailbag…
–Thank you, Terry, for your positive encouraging words. By allowing your heart to spill onto paper—text—internet-etc., My spirit is stimulated and brightened. Similar to a life tube thrown over my head when I don’t have the energy to even reach my arms through it. Thanks for walking beside me and leading me home showing me how to let my light rekindle and shine. Blessings and much love. Katrina
–Hi Terry, Earlier this year three of my good friends were spending the night in a condo on Miami Beach. During the night the building collapsed and the three were killed. Recently you posted a story about some Winnie the Pooh characters sitting and being sad together. I brought that to two of my friends who were close to the others that died. It helped us tremendously. Thanks again for your daily postings. Maria, Miami, FL
–I hope you know how much I appreciate you and your messages. I feel like we are neighbors, chatting about life, not a fabulous wordsmith and motivator and one of many followers… you have a huge impact on my day every time I read one of your posts or books. Jennie
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience. Eleanor Roosevelt
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Light splashed this morning
on the shell pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering;
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.
So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.