It was a cold Sunday evening as I opened my front door to let the dog out. The door hit something. The something meowed in response. A juvenile cat looked up at me with the most pitiful eyes. It wanted inside, it wanted food, it wanted warmth. Inside my body, my heart did what it always does when it encounters an animal or person in distress, I began to methodically think of a plan forward.
I looked up at Allison. The cat was weaving its way through my legs. I almost tripped over the animal as I walked off the porch. There was no way this animal could move in with us. My family (including myself) is very allergic to cats. It meowed. It purred. It continued to rub against my legs. So began an ordinary week filled with extraordinary implications.
I quickly found a basket. Allison fetched some towels. We created a space on our porch. This animal was not the usual barn cat that often crosses our property. No, this animal knew affection and it was adamant that we adopt it in some way. I put the cat in the basket. I walked to the door. There it was. I put the cat back in the basket. I walked briskly to the door. There it was. I picked up the cat, opened the door, walked inside, dropped it outside the door and quickly closed the door. Haunting meows came from outside. Stage one of heartbreak began. So began the feline apocalypse of Advent.
Apocalypse is a scary word in our modern times. Pop-eschatology has made the word synonymous with destruction, danger and tribulation. In the first century world, apocalypsis, the Greek word from which we get “revelation,” was not a scary word but one that communicated an uncovering of something that was once hidden. The Book of Revelation is actually titled “The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.” John the Revelator is unveiling that which was once hidden. His wild imagery is his human attempt to describe the ineffable. The veil has been pulled back and heaven is breaking through. The apocalypse is Jesus. The one who was hidden after the Ascension (Acts 1:9-11) is now breaking through to John (and the world). And the command is clear, “Write…what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later” (1:19, NIV).
Days passed with my feline friend. One day I noticed the poor cat was shivering in her basket. I bought a cat box so she could be shielded from the elements. My family even had to find new ways of exiting and entering our home so as to avoid the cat seeing us. We networked to find the cat a home. Finally, a friend of a friend said they would take the cat but we would have to wait until the following Sunday to drop her off. While we were not able to make our house the cat’s home, we had done our part in helping the animal. Then the unthinkable happened.
“Jason, come here,” Allison signaled me to the bathroom window. We looked out and the little cat was meowing in the flower bed. It was below freezing outside and the cat box was mere feet from the animal.
“I’ll go put the cat in the box,” I responded. I put on my jacket and walked outside. As usual, the cat came to me. This time, however, it didn’t run. It drug its back legs as it made its way across the sidewalk. The poor animal was paralyzed. Its back legs were soaking wet. My first thought was that it had fallen into some water and was suffering from hypothermia and could not make it to its cat box and was left in the cold. We took it into our garage, took off the top of the cat box, and placed the cat inside the bottom half with a space heater next to it. There the little cat stayed for the next few days. Its lifeless legs never regaining strength.
My inner world was in turmoil. I felt that I was rejecting the cat. I was denying it the longings it so desired…natural longings, mind you. I feared that it saw our kitchen lights and wondered why it was not allowed to experience the joy and love of our home. I conceptually knew this was not the case but my heart was confused. Each day I journaled my reflections on the past 24 hours. Each day my soul wrestled with the meaning of this feline visitor. The cat signified so much and, simultaneously, was simply a cat, now paralyzed, not able to live fully the life intended for it.
The dreaded day came. We had to decide what we would do with the paralyzed cat in our garage. Allison and I agreed that it was time to put the animal down. I couldn’t do any of the scheduling. Honestly, I could hardly talk. Words failed me. In my journal, I felt anger, disappointment and intense sadness. Why had this cat come to our front porch to meet the fate it was encountering? As I put pen to paper, I realized that this cat had come to symbolize all the pain, brokenness and rejection that had come to mark my life. The pain that I had told myself was normal. The hurt I had told myself to get over. The opportunities, or potentials for opportunity, that had brought me to the threshold of warmth, light and acceptance. Followed by the rejection that had hobbled my wishes and left me in the cold.
On a chilly, overcast Friday morning, the cat was put down. Before it all happened, I sat with the cat. I apologized to it. I kept staring at it. I felt a lot but my feelings were more confusing than coherent. After I said my last words, I walked away. I would never see the animal again. Our paths must now depart. I drove my son to school and then met with a friend. As I recalled the events of the past week, my lip began to quiver.
That night, Allison and I had a huge fight about the past 24 hours. We were both reeling from the pain we had felt. Unanswered questions gave way to anger and frustration. In our lack of reflection, we had thought the answers were to come from the other. Then, for the first time in over 20 years, I cried.
I cried for a cat who wasn’t loved. I cried for its pain and I cried for the future that was denied it. I cried that it’s last days seemed purposeless. I cried that nobody wanted it and that we could not give it what it wanted. I cried because all life is sacred and somehow this life had been made profane.
A few nights passed and as I journaled, I realized another reason I was crying. I was crying for the lie that I had carried that God could reject me. The lie is silly but it was one that I carried. I spoke the truth to myself, God would never reject me. He is radically for his creation. Then it dawned on me.
I saw a cat that seemed to have no purpose. The why of the moment had blinded me to the who of the eternal. God used this precious animal to reveal to me that if I was so deeply moved to help out an animal in need, then how much more does my Heavenly Father desire to be present to me. I was crying because a paralyzed cat had become an apocalyptic kitty.
The past seven days have been painful. The pain has come through the hidden-made-revealed love of God. When death (of cat or ego) occurs, we experience moments that C.S. Lewis coined as a “severe mercy.” God’s mercy ushers in an end knowing that such an end is painful to us but for our ultimate good.
The “severe mercy” of my feline friend was that a good God was revealing himself through an ordinary encounter. This cat had a purpose and our lives met at an apocalyptic intersection.
This is Advent. Advent is apocalyptic as an invisible God is made known to us in the revealed person of Jesus Christ. A baby is born to us to live a life of sacrifice as a severe mercy. That severe mercy is not the world’s rejection or negation but its embrace by a loving God who is radically for his creation. His affections are for this creation even as he refines, purges, and crucifies the parts of it that inhibit it from experiencing life everlasting.
This Advent season, I remember fondly a little kitten who came onto my porch and reminded me that God loves me. I’m reminded that like other apocalyptic writers, words fail. Detailing spiritual breakthroughs is like describing the color blue to a person blind from birth. But we try to put pen to paper (or letters on a blog post) to share when moments happen and the commonplace of life becomes the place of our salvation.