Praise the Lord, all you nations;
extol God, all you peoples.
For great is God’s love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord
Praise the Lord.
(Psalm 117, NIV)
I have a bad reputation around home for unexpectedly bringing home animals that need somewhere to live and be loved. Several years ago, while dropping off baby guinea pigs to be sold at our local stock and grain supply, I spontaneously brought home two pilgrim geese goslings. And there are many such stories I could tell you. But Tequila was an animal that needed a home less than I needed to share a home with her.
Two years ago, my youngest daughter and I decided we wanted a cat. After looking at the cat shelter website, we agreed that ‘Smokey’ was the one for us. He was beautiful, mature, well-behaved and needed a good home. On arrival at the cat shelter, we were told that Smokey had already found a good home but that there were ten other cats that we could look at. This presented a problem. Some family members were not especially keen to share their living space with a feline friend so, we had agreed that if Smokey wasn’t available, we would not get a cat. It was a sort of Gideon’s fleece; a sign, if you like.
So, we would not bring home another cat, or kitten, but would just look at the other cats and then return home to a cat-deficient living space. Good in theory. But then we met Tequila. She was ten months old and had the coloring of a panda bear. Caught wandering the streets ‘on heat’, she had arrived at the shelter only three days previously. When we approached her cage, she leant backwards, lost her balance and fell clumsily to the bottom level of the cage. ‘Eeow’, she said to us angrily, as if it was our fault. Not easily put off, my daughter opened Tequila’s cage to give her a pat. The panda-cat creature swiped at her with a paw full of claws. ‘Moving on,’ said my daughter, as she quickly shut the cage door and we went to meet the other cats. But we knew. We knew that we would be back. We knew that we would take home the crazy panda-cat with the intelligent, sparkly eyes. And we did.
The rest of the family were not thrilled to see Tequila instead of Smokey or No-cat. However, I was besotted! From the beginning, I knew that Tequila was my mirror, teacher and guru.
At first, we made excuses for her unsocial behaviors saying that we needed to be patient with her. She was a ‘street cat’ and required time (and love) to heal from her wild and neglected past-life. We focused on feeding her and giving her a warm place to live (the laundry) and avoided touching her beautiful panda-like fur as this usually ended in bloodshed. Our blood was shed, not cat blood.
As the days turned into weeks, Tequila settled in and accepted that we were a part of her reality; her tribe. She hid in bushes, jumped out unexpectedly and grabbed hold of human legs with her teeth and claws. Her sleeping place changed daily and it became a mystery to discover where Tequila was sleeping so that we didn’t disturb her and risk punishment. It was like living with a tigress that had shrunk and was dressing as a panda bear for identity reasons. We were confused. But I, at least, was watching.
At this point in the story, it is important that I inform you that I am a woman towards the end of my menopausal transition. Now 53, I have almost completed this fierce and informative journey that we call ‘menopause’ or ‘change-of-life’. (Change-of-life, it is and, change our lives, we must.) And, in some strange way, Tequila was helping me to understand myself and who I was to become in this new season of life. She was reminding me of the wildness, the importance of being truthful, the necessity of acknowledging emotions and respecting the wisdom of the body. She was teaching me to shed, to moult, to leave unhelpful things behind. She was showing me that I did not have to be overly nice; did not have to withhold wisdom or opinions.
While I was learning from my feisty guru, Tequila was also changing. In the mornings, she started quietly sneaking into my bedroom. After checking the bed was safe (no dog presiding over the space), she jumped up and let me pat her. This ritual became a daily safe practice. Unless, of course, the patting went on too long or was administered incorrectly or … or … or …
The weeks turned into months and Tequila began to show us all her softer nature. She remained an ambush predator at night and continued to punish us for inappropriate pride behavior however, pats and cuddles and even lap-sitting, became acceptable interactions. Her purring became a common sound in the house as it reverberated around the room like the rumbling of a suppressed volcano. Tequila found other parts of her catness. And we came to love her as she was.
One very sad day, about a month ago, Tequila was hit by a car and died instantly. (Writing this horrible sentence has released more sadness in my heart and tears from my eyes.) After burying her, I was comforted by a friend who said, ‘I believe our pets wait for us at the rainbow bridge to pass over with us into the afterlife.’ What a beautiful belief! I hope it’s true. Tequila was my teacher and my friend.
One of my favourite lines in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series is:
Aslan isn’t a tame lion!
Tequila wasn’t a tame cat!
Maybe it’s the gentleness
of a God who cares
Maybe it’s the compassion
of a God who wants things to be better …
Maybe it’s the humility
of God as a baby
Maybe it’s the vulnerability
of God entering humanity.
Maybe it’s the justice
of telling poor shepherds first.
Maybe it’s the miracle
of the unsuspecting virgin giving birth
… her husband confused
… and both misunderstood,
yet bold enough to trust
to trust in an unpredictable
and totally trustworthy God.
The God of Love
The God of Comfort
The God of Grace.
Maybe it’s the inclusion
of rich foreigners,
who do not know the Jewish God
who have not heard of Jehovah
have not read the Book
are not expecting the new king to be God.
Maybe it’s the peace
of a sleeping newborn,
who promises to save us from our selves.
Maybe it’s the joy
of knowing the friendship of God,
a friendship that can’t be earnt
… only received.
Maybe that’s the good in Christmas!
(by Lyn Beattie)
I was a real person
My name is synonymous with sin
like Eve (I guess) and others
My name means ‘Man’s sin’
That is my legacy
That is the shame I must now shed
I was a real person
And when he saw me bathing
he thought I was an object
He wanted my hollywood-good-looks
He was a king, entitled
he thought – to own me
I was a real person
I had a beautiful husband
Uriah, who took my feminine flower
and loved me – with delicacy
I loved him
and I was his one and only
I was a real person
After the assault, I felt dirty
I hung my head in shame
I could not look into Uriah’s eyes
my beloved Uriah
Then, they sent him to death
I was a real person
After the murder, I was numb
On the inside I was dead
buried beside my Uriah
But I was summoned to give pleasure
to a king who didn’t have enough
I was a real person
After my baby died, I wept
This time I was allowed to grieve
the king had also lost a son
A prophet came to speak words
the long-awaited justice
I was a real person
I picked up the pieces
I birthed other children
learnt to live with strangers
washed and dressed like a queen
tried to comfort my soul
I was a real person
Had I said no at the beginning
like Vashti, or Abigail
the story would have differed
But I was young
And I wanted to live
I was a real person
My name has another meaning:
daughter of my oath
I made an oath once
It was a sacred oath:
‘Only you shall I love’
I am a real person
As we have come to understand our world differently through science and knowledge, we have also come to perceive the Divine differently. The patterns of ‘the heavenly bodies’ are governed by the rules of physics and do not require the hand of God to literally move them around each day. The water cycle does its thing and rain waters our crops, snow fills the mountaintops, mist rests in the valleys. We have seasons because of the tilt of the earth. We heal from meningitis because we have antibiotics. We enjoy biodiversity because we protect (and nourish) the habitat of other species. All these activities were considered the direct responsibility of God at various times in human history and He/She was worshiped based on the belief that the character of the Divine was linked to these activities on a regular basis. So, if the rains came, ‘God was pleased with us’. If the rains did not come, ‘God was punishing us’. If our child healed from fever, ‘God’s favour was upon us’, but if they died, ‘God has removed His/Her favour from us’.
So much of what we now understand as natural law was attributed to the direct action of the Divine in previous times. And, many people extrapolate this to presume that science will eventually eradicate any need for God at all. They believe that ‘the God of the gaps’ will disappear altogether.
My problem with this kind of thinking is that it presumes that the Divine Being exists primarily to perform tasks; tasks that we humans cannot or will not attend to. What if this is not true? One of the modern beliefs in the West that I find most extraordinary is that which belittles the Divine to being subject to the whims and fickleness of human creation/opinion. If God/dess does in fact exist, I suggest that He/She has a self-defined set of character traits, and also determines what daily activities and interactions are deserving of His/Her personal attention.
People who believe ‘the God of the gaps’ is dying simply because the Divine is not directly involved with the things that we previously believed He/She was about, perhaps need to alter their thinking about God/dess. Maybe the Divine is about other things? Maybe S/He sees different gaps? Maybe S/He is about relationship? Maybe S/He is about Love?
By Lyn Beattie, dedicated to Van Gogh and ‘the seasons’ exhibition, Melboune NIV 2017
The first blossom dawned from its place of safety
its hidden beauty now visible to the crisp world
a sign that spring had at last come to the earth
She was the forerunner; the angelic messenger
sent to announce the time to Adama and the heirs
She was delicate and yet, strong as a warrior
Her intricate inner work had been long and hard
And now, the warmth of the early spring sun
would gently heal her and bring restoration
She was ready to be seen, ready to speak
The sun gently called moisture from the earth
Quietly, the mist spoke out ‘it’s a new day’
A floral perfume arose from her centre
calling other blossoms out, to open anew
calling others, ‘it is safe to believe’
She stopped, to drink in the stillness
She paused, to feel the sacred moment
She was not alone
she had never been alone
she had never been forsaken
Time sighed and the sun stood still awhile
She bowed her head to the soil of the earth
acknowledged the Great Loving Creator
saw the attentive and powerful Oneness
gave thanks for kindness, for intimacy
It is a new day; a new beginning
‘Arise, my beautiful one and come
‘the winter is past and flowers appear on the earth
‘once more, the season for singing is here
‘the voice of the turtledove can now be heard
God describes him/herself to a man called Moses saying, ‘I AM who I AM’ and ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness’.
So, what is compassion? I think of it as keeping company in passion; feeling with another person (or ourselves) and staying physically and emotionally present with one another. Compassion is a part of love that renounces fear/awkwardness in order to prevent a person feeling abandoned or alone. The expression of compassion relies on courage to take part in the feelings of another soul and a commitment to understanding the importance of emotions.
This song is one of the most beautiful expressions of compassion (God’s) that I have come across. Enjoy!
Kindness is soft and strong. It is accepting of where people are and who they are. It does not judge, but instead respects thoughts and emotions. It acknowledges the good, the bad, the easy, the hard. When shown kindness, a person feels safe, is healed, is accepted. Kindness shows that one is listened to and heard. Kindness is generous. It can also be fierce! (‘Because I love you …’). Kindness sometimes means being vulnerable and risking the loss of things or people. A gift of kindness can mean loss while also delivering the most incredible peace.
Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit of God. It is an expression of grace and a means by which we can love one another and get along together giving us a real experience of dwelling with God and each other. Kindness feels warm, refreshing and sustaining. It often brings with it a strong sense of being valued and belonging.
Kindness looks like the Good Samaritan; the person who understands what it means to love God, love themselves and love others (their neighbours). When Christ’s listeners asked ‘Who is my neighbour?’ (i.e. Who should I be kind to?), Christ answered with the story of the Good Samaritan and a question, ‘Which person in the story do you think was a neighbour?’
Kindness is often recognized by actions and sometimes magnified by attending to the small intricate things in the life of another. Developing a kind thought-life and affirming others with kind words are also important expressions of love. Other virtues that accompany kindness include generosity, integrity, steadfastness and compassion. We should be able to receive kindness as well as give kindness and it should be a virtue devoid of superiority or inferiority. Self-righteousness, selfishness and judgementalism oppose and hinder kindness. Kindness can be used as an agent of change when we ask the question: ‘How can I bring kindness, love, grace into this awkward (or challenging, or volatile) situation?’
Why be kind? Because our God is kind.
The Hebrew sacred text says,
‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.’ (Jer 31:3)
The story of Ruth as told in the bible is full of kindness and in Colossians we are instructed to be kind:
‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’ (Col 3:12-14)
Shalom, and may we remember to consider the Lovingkindness of God often (Psalm 107:43) and not conceal it from others (Psalm 40:10).
This post completes our series about love, for now. In the next few weeks we will focus on the theme of ‘Science and Spirituality’.
G is for God. God is Love and everything God is, says and does is grounded in perfect love.
R is for Righteousness. Righteousness is also a God-thing and refers to God’s perfection in purity, justice, truth, kindness, mercy, fairness, compassion and (of course) love.
A is for Action. The action of God in sending Christ to remove the gap, the unwanted separation, between God (the perfect righteous lover) and humans (the imperfect, but worthy, lover).
C is for Christ. God in human flesh: born, lived, died and raised up. Christ’s gift of salvation-by-faith is offered to each person and, when received, the Spirit (of God) dwells in the believing human.
E is for Everlasting Life. Eternal life, freedom, forgiveness, friendship-with-God is now (and forevermore) a living reality for each person who believes in Christ.
What is there not to LOVE about Grace!?
A few posts ago, I wrote about love. I am no expert on this topic but have an obsession with it due to my occupation being centred around it. No, I don’t organize speed dating gatherings (although I would quite like to) but I do write fantasy, wisdom fiction for young adults with strong themes of love and belovedness. However, this is just an adult disguise for the truth that I am a huge succour (or sucker) for the passions and perfection of pure love. I am a die-hard romantic and will possibly die prematurely because of it (but hopefully not because I am a slow learner and need all the time I can get to work this stuff out!)
I turned fifty a few weeks ago and am attempting to see this as the beginning of a Jubilee season in my life. Jubilee is an old Hebrew celebration that comes around every fifty years. Land is returned to original owners, and people are expected to renew a society based on egalitarian values. I believe there was quite a bit of eating and drinking and being merry with neighbours and friends. (At least, it’s hard for me to imagine any better way of celebrating Jubilee.)
As part of my celebrations, I want to invite you (my blog friends from around the world and friends/family closer to home) to write a couple of lines about love in the comments section after this post.
After posting It’s about Love with a question that asked ‘What do we find so difficult about the concept that God is Love?’, someone asked me ‘But what is love?’ My feeble attempt to describe love in the post had not helped this person, and this person was not a young person. So, I have gone back to the drawing board on this one and am calling in reinforcements (i.e. you) to help.
One of the sensual ways that I recognize love is through the smell of the first rain on the dry earth. While I was watching a local football match the other day, one of my friends enlightened me to the fact that there was a grown-up word for this smell. It is petrichor. (As a writer, I should have known this but I don’t know many big words really. This is why I write for young humans, or humans like myself that get confused by sophisticated English words.) I was so excited that there was one single word to describe this joyous experience that I wrote an acrostic piece of writing about other experiences that help me know what love is using the word PETRICOR. Here it is:
People who help me to believe I’ve turned out just the way Creator intended when S/He sang me into being
Everything and everyone seems to be new and beautiful and non-judgemental
Time becomes irrelevant and immeasurable
Resting in the friendship of Christ and other humans
I am who I am (regardless of the messiness, traumas or opinions of those who fear) and I am beautiful
Co-incidences that happen reminding me of the powerful loving attentiveness of Yahweh
Over-riding sense of protectedness as if a large broody mother bird is watching over me
Redemption (this is one of those big words I don’t really understand but I will continue with it regardless) of hurts, failures or botched-up relationships from the past
Please throw me a pearl of wisdom about love from your strand of many.