… this is still not warrenellis.com. If it was, we wouldn’t be leading off from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Second Sunday After Christmas:
Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.
There are lots of ways to interpret this passage, but I’m most interested in the one by Reverend Ken Wratten of Saint Stephens in-the-Field church. Joseph is performing an action in faith – he’s moving to a different country based on a voice he heard in a dream – but based on a realistic response to circumstances.
Historians dispute whether the massacre of the innocents really happened, but not that Herod was a tyrant and madman who murdered his own family. So even though we don’t normally follow the advice we get in our dreams – and, for the literalists among us, note that in some circumstances the Bible specifically warns us not to – it was nonetheless a reasonable response to the circumstance for Joseph to heed that voice and get the heck out of Dodge.
Father Ken’s interpretation of this is that we should respond to the circumstances of our life in faith. Not assume that faith will magically shield us from all woes, but realistically look at the circumstances we have and, based on faith, take the response available to us that best fits God’s will. If you are not a Christian or other believer, substitute the idea that you should not rely on your ideology to save you, but you should nonetheless take the best action available to you consistent with your values AND the circumstances. (There’s more to Christianity than just Always Do The Right Thing, but I digress.)
So what does this have to do with cat spray?
One element of responding in faith is that God can use changes in our circumstances to prod us to action – if we are willing to look at our circumstances in faith and try to see how we could, indeed should turn it to our advantage. No matter how trying the circumstances…
Recently, we noticed a whiff of an odd smell and realized the cats had been spraying under a desk in our library, which I’ve been reorganizing. I wiped up the spray, picked up the stack of three plastic tubs of computer parts, and turned to take them into the kitchen – and a stream of cat urine slid out from between the boxes and dripped all over a pile of papers I’d set out to file. For those not familiar with cat urine, it’s the substance they used to “eat through the floor” in the movie Alien. (No it isn’t; that’s a joke. See the link below).
The cats had sprayed most of the under-desk shelf but the ridges of atop the plastic tubs had sealed it in and trapped the smell – until I moved it, when the funky urine landed on my pile of junk. Everything was trashed: the box for my MacBook Air, an old drawing book, some papers, a record … but, miraculously, not my comic book artwork, which, in one of those circumstances which gives succor to those of faith and drives our skeptical friends nuts, was completely spared.
God uses circumstances to prod us to make changes we wouldn’t do on our own. I had already decided, in a sort of general way, that I needed to purge my library: this brought the point home, and even helped me decide what to purge. My wife and I already knew we needed to get all three of the cats integrated or get rid of one or more of them: this brought that point home, and led immediately to a new plan of action. And we already knew we were a team, but had yet to really accept that we had complementary work habits, but when she cheerfully worked to 5am cleaning while I slept, and then I cheerfully took over while she slept, that brought that point home.
Religious believers, Christians, look on this as a reminder to look at the circumstances that befall you in faith, and try to find the action God has given you that doesn’t just cope with the situation, it actually improves it and brings you closer to him. And for skeptics, remember: fundamentally, we live in a spot of this universe where it is possible for life to thrive for billions of years. It may sound cheesy, but life will find a way: and no matter what the circumstances, you can too. Like pilgrims, you may find it takes a long journey, but at least it’s possible to reach the promised land.
Pictured: Lenora irritated by a cat toy, our warring tomcats Caesar and Gabby, and a Youtube experiment attempting to replicate the “acid burning through the floor effect” from Alien.