A few months ago, my partner Herb and I went to a rescue foundation to look at a few kittens. We had chatted about getting a kitten in the next year or so, but had no intention of bringing one home...yet. We went to get a better feel for what we wanted. I’m sure you can already see where this is headed. We were allowed to visit, hold, and play with three cats. The first one was named Paco. Paco had been found roaming the streets of Sacramento. He was sick and was taken from the street to a shelter to a foster home to this rescue center, where he was recovering. A six-month-old Abyssinian mix, he was playful, affectionate and had chutzpah, which we knew any cat would need in order to hold his own with our two older cats and our two dogs.
We left Paco behind and met two other kittens, both adorable but rather shy. We went back to play with Paco and were mesmerized by his cuteness.
Just as we started to ask, "Are we ready to...", the door flung open. Our staff guide, who had been showing us around, returned with a camera. She said, “There’s no need for you to look at any more cats. It’s obvious he’s coming home with you. Stay there for a moment while I take your photo with your new kitten.” And in an instant, we went from cat window-shopping to kitten parents. Beware cat window-shopping!
We got him home and renamed him "Cougar" because, well, he looks like a Cougar and acts like a wild animal. While he was a bit reserved at first, after a few weeks he began to trust that we had made a permanent commitment to him. No more shelters. No more foster parents. He understood that we are his forever home and family.
We are promising Cougar that he has a forever home that is not dependent on how well he behaves, but rather is based on our unconditional love for him. And his behavior is sometimes challenging.
- Cougar wakes us up at 5:30 every day meowing for the first of at least two breakfasts.
- So far Cougar has demolished four dining room chairs, two orchids, and an avocado tree in our sunroom that I had grown from a pit. Cougar decided that it was the perfect spot to curl up for a nap.
- We have given him the nickname "Destructo".
Yet, we adore him, and he is family.
Our relationship with Cougar is a metaphor for our relationship with The Sacred. Even when we bite and scratch like a "Destructo", the Source of All Life has made an unconditional commitment to us. We are forever family.
I prefer the metaphor of family/adoption over the metaphors of transaction or atonement. Much religion feels like a business transaction with The Divine: “I’ll do my part if you do yours.” The focus is on appeasing a deity and then determining who's in and who's out; who's good enough and who's not good enough; who's accepted and who's damned; who's in relationship and who's "other" and "outsider".
Much Christian religion orbits around Atonement Theory. This view, which gained prominence through Augustine, holds that a just God cannot abide our sinfulness, but takes out wrath on Jesus instead of us, thus fulfilling the need for punishment yet saving us from everlasting torment. For many of us, this was the only Christian metaphor to which we were exposed. It is, however, just one of many perspectives that co-existed from the earliest days of Christianity. Like any metaphor it was originally crafted as a symbol, that is, something which was not to be taken literally and which pointed to one aspect of the Infinity Mystery, which is beyond words.
What if "sin" is primarily the forgetting that we are family with God and with each other? Then the central metaphor is not a wrathful God pardoning undeserving, miserable beings, but a God incessantly taking in strays, reminding us of who we are and where we belong, what our place is in the Universe. We are made in the image of God, made of God stuff. That makes us family with Sacred Mystery, with each other, and with all life.
The spiritual life is about awakening to that Sacred Mystery within us and all around us. As we remember who we are and whose we are, we find family everywhere. We allow ourselves to be taken in by Love, and we take each other in as we embody Ultimate Love.
- How deep will you let Love penetrate and permeate you?
- And receiving that Love, what is your response?
- How will you respond to a Cosmos that adores you?
- What is the next action your soul calls you to take on behalf of your family?
Through us The Sacred closes the gap between current reality and a potential future of justice and thriving for the whole human family, our family. We join with The Sacred to close that gap in tiny increments.
That's the paradox. The Love of The Holy is unconditional, yet it calls us to wake up and step up. The more we attune ourselves to Unconditional Love, the more we recognize the Universe as kin and can't help but respond. When we awaken to Who We Are, we expand the definition of family until there are no strays left out in the cold.
Herb and I adopted a kitten named Cougar. We call him to act like a more mature cat, and he is improving. However well he meets expectations, when he curls up next to my head, and purrs as he nuzzles my cheek, and I rub his chin and scratch between his ears, we both experience the promise of home fulfilled. In those moments I start to understand how God feels about us.