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Lessons I learned from my cat

We had a Blessing of the Animals earlier this month, hosted by our neighboring church, Johns Memorial Episcopal.

It’s an event that marks the birthday of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of God’s creation, by inviting folks to bring their pets to church for a blessing from the ministers.

About 20 happy dogs attended — and four somewhat-less-than-happy cats in carriers — along with their people.

One couple even brought their deceased pet’s ashes — that really testifies to the strength of the bond between pets and the people with whom they share life. What a gift from God our pets are.

I have a cat — whom I did not bring to the Blessing of the Animals — named Mini. Her auxiliary name is “Meep,” because that is the sound she makes when she wants something. Meep, meep, meep, feed me. Meep, meep, meep, let me out. Mini is small, all black, and fierce.

She came to us when we lived in Louisiana. One morning, my husband saw our pre-existing black cat, Nooma, playing in the front yard with an identical black cat, still a kitten at the time. That foundling became Mini/Meep, and now we have two black cats whom it’s often hard to tell apart, especially when they’re curled into a ball, asleep.

Mini was just a kitten when she found us, but she had already had a rough time of it. Her tail told the story. It had – and still has, nine years later – a crook in it, a spot where her tail was broken when she was very young. Our vet speculated, when we took little Mini in for her shots, that someone had abused her. Or perhaps her tail had been run over. In any event, Mini was very little, but she had already been scarred by life.

Whatever it was that happened to her as a kitten, it must have left a deep imprint on Mini’s psyche. “Mini” and “mean” both have four letters, I remind my family. She’s kind of mean. Sometimes.

You never know when Mini will have had enough petting, or brushing, or even just proximity to you. She will suddenly lash out, claws extended, and make a swipe at your head. You need antibiotic cream and Band Aids if you’re going to be Mini’s owners.

This aspect of Mini is distressing to me, and I confess I have wished – many times – that we could find a nice home for her at a nearby barn with plenty of mice. I prefer a consistently nice cat, which our other three felines mostly are. But lately I’ve come to see Mini as a teacher, helping impart to me the spiritual quality of empathy.

What does St. Paul say, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

Mini is a hurt cat, and hurt cats hurt others. She is our responsibility to care for and to love as best we can (no to the barn).

Aren’t we humans a lot like Mini — bearing our individual emotional and spiritual hurts, and often lashing out at others because of our unhealed wounds? I struggle with Mini’s unpredictability, and with my own.

Is there someone — or many someones — in your life whom you struggle to understand? Ask God for just a little more grace, a little more patience, a little more forgiveness. It can go a long way.

Oh, hello, Mini — so now you need some love, huh? Here’s a scratch behind the ears for you.

REV. SUSIE THOMAS is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. Her email address is sthomas@farmvilleumc.org.