Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Curtis is our cat, although doubtless he would reverse the relationship. Speaking of ownership when it comes to cats is dubious at best, verging on foolhardy and Curtis suffers fools hardly at all. Should there be a moment of doubt on this matter, it is quickly laid to rest when he manifests in some unlikely situation. For example, I can stand at the door calling his name, inviting him for food or to save him from the ravages of fierce wild beasts. I call and I call, answered by nothing but the sound of my own voice echoing from the neighbor’s house. Until I drop my eyes to notice that Curtis has all the while been standing between my feet enjoying the evening and wondering at the foolish display.

Curtis is a grey stripped cat, born in Maine. Although he came from the pound as a kitten he always seemed quite feral, and definitely capable of taking care of himself. One morning I heard a fox bark, and went to the door expecting the worst, but Curtis was very much in charge. The fox was lying on the ground, his forepaws stretched out in the submissive position with Curtis ready to spring. Only the tip of his tail twitched as he waited in silence. I held my breath for as long as I could until my suppressed anxiety exploded in a loud bellow. The fox went straight up in the air, turning 180 degrees before hitting the ground and raced for the woods with Curtis in hot pursuit. I guess I blew it,. but it did occur to me that while Curtis may well have cowed the fox it would hardly be a fair fight if Curtis attacked. Curtis however, hardly saw it that way. When the fox disappeared, Curtis turned and slowly walked back to the house, tail straight up like a bottle brush. Conquering hero for sure.

Curtis’s namesake was one Cyrus Curtis, a Philadelphia publisher of some note who was actually born in Maine and returned every summer to the town of Camden aboard his 200 foot steam yacht. His largess is well remembered some 100 years later, as it should be. There is The Curtis Library, Curtis Island, The Curtis Village Square, and the Curtis Amphitheater. The tradition is continued with Curtis the Cat. The relationship between our Curtis and Cyrus may be tenuous, but it seemed compelling to us. Curtis was a Camden cat, and what could be more Camden than Curtis? We also had some hope that Curtis might take to the sea as Cyrus had before him.

Our hopes for Curtis’s nautical future were realized early and almost came to a sad and soggy end. It is our pleasure to cruise the coast of Maine and on a delightful warm sunny day we took off in our boat with Curtis for his inaugural cruise. We arrived before supper time at a deserted island with a large sandy beach, a rarity in Maine which is known for its rocks. The tide was out exposing a broad expanse of sandy flats, a perfect place for a young cat’s grand adventure. We were not disappointed as Curtis wandered the beach chasing seagull feathers, attacking clam squirts and tasting the local abundance of unmentionable things. However, when it came time to return to our boat, Curtis was wound up like a spring. We got him into the tender with some difficulty, and when we reached the boat he literally shot on board, racing to the top of the cabin, around the decks, in and out of portholes. He slowed briefly for supper, but after some food and with the approach of the night his manic behavior reached new heights.

Evening on the coast of Maine is always beautiful and definitely chilly. And with the evening chill comes the dew, rendering our decks wet and very slippery. We desperately attempted to confine Curtis to the cabin, but to no avail as round and round he went at top speed. Even though he was sure footed as a cat (what else) a soggy ending seemed inevitable and was shortly realized with a heart rending yowl and splash. Curtis was in the water, and the sun had set. We could see not a thing.

My wife, Ethelyn, stood at the gunnel screaming, Curtis, Curtis, and I feared that in a moment I would have both of them in the water. I thought to pull anchor and go after him, but quickly realized that there was not time, and besides I couldn’t see the cat. In desperation I grabbed a search light and started to comb the waters with little hope of any success. For the longest time, or at least it seemed that way, Ethelyn cried out and I tried to make myself useful with the search light – when suddenly I could see two small ears and a pink flea collar reflecting the light. Unfortunately they were headed towards England.

Ethelyn screamed louder and louder – and one of the ears turned our way, followed by the second. And then a small pink nose and two eyes framed by little splashes created by frantic swimming. Curtis was coming back! But he headed towards the bow of the boat from which we couldn’t possibly reach him. Eventually he slid along the side back to the stern where Ethelyn made a frantic grab for the soggy little body – there is nothing more miserable than a totally wet chilly cat. Even when we bundled him in a towel and snuggled him between us in the bunk for the night he continued to vent his displeasure. You would have thought that it was all our fault, that we had thrown him in the water!

Curtis is now seven years old, having advanced through multiple adventures. We are much older, greyer and wiser – at least to the degree that we understand that Curtis is not our cat. We have been graced with his decision to reside with us.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Job's Problem

Job had a problem. He did everything right, and it came out all wrong. Not Fair! And from his day to ours that problem has bothered a lot of people. Especially those sorts of people who have imagined a kind, just, loving God. What kind of God could do all that nasty stuff to poor old Job? The clear answer is – Not a very nice one (God). Or perhaps there is no God? Or?

As long as the problem of Job is restricted to the theological world, it is surely an intellectual brain buster, but hardly of existential concern. But Job’s problem keeps showing up – often by another name: Suffering Innocents. Millions of people rendered homeless, helpless, murdered, maimed, and martyred. Man’s inhumanity to man is impressive – and if there is any moral quid pro quo, it is hard to see. Doubtless some of this suffering multitude did something that might have justified the violent retribution, but the scales of justice appear badly tilted, if not off the balance point. And if God is on their side, they might better be thinking about some new ally.

As nasty as human beings are to one another, and they can definitely be nasty – humans are mere pikers compared to Mother Nature. Any good plague, be that Bubonic, AIDS or Flu, cuts a swath through the human population that Man’s current efforts simply can’t match. Perhaps someday if too many people push the nuclear buttons, we might be in the running, but not yet.

If we shift our attention to what might be called "natural disasters," the scale of devastation becomes massive. A run of the mill tsunami will surely get your attention, but that is nothing compared to the handiwork of an aberrant asteroid.

Fortunately it doesn’t happen all that often, but some 65 million years ago such a cosmic wanderer dropped into what is now the Gulf of Mexico, creating a humongous hole and throwing an enormous amount of ash and stuff into the air, blocking light from the sun and effectively putting the Big Chill on the poor dinosaurs. Gone! Wiped off the face of the earth! I ask you, what did they ever do to deserve such a fate? And Job thought he had a problem!

The truth of the matter is that the Cosmos we live in is a bumpy place, and has been from the very beginning. It is not for nothing that the Grand Opening was called The Big Bang, and it has been rocking and rolling ever since. There is another truth: We are not the center of the cosmos. No matter how much we might hope or think otherwise – we are a very lately arrived side show to the central drama, whatever that might be. No doubt we have our opinions about how things ought to work, and should the Master of the Universe have consulted us early on we might have suggested some alternatives. But that did not happen. In one of the most marvelous lines from the Book of Job, the Lord lays it out. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" Answer: Not present.

A bumpy cosmos indeed, replete with massively destructive collisions, implosions and explosions -- all wrapped in the mystery of Dark Matter, Black Holes and Chaos. However, this same cosmos is equally replete with the crystalline beauty and silent majesty of sidereal order – galaxies spinning to their own deep rhythm in a dance of infinite grandeur mirrored and paralleled by the micro world of Neutrinos and Quarks. Or is it of Strings that vibrate and sing the song of the cosmic dance? Light and dark, order and chaos, creation and destruction – shifting and blending in the ongoing kaleidoscopic symphony of the universe. Truly a dance of cosmic proportions, and we are invited. But rarely do we call the tune or choose our partners. And there’s the rub.

To some it may seem that we are simply cast about like so much cosmic flotsam and jetsam – and on a day when the partner of the moment is dark chaos that is surely the experience. But partners change and the dance moves on – light creative order enters our experience. How wonderful it might be to hold that moment for ever. . .

The ecstasy is not in the moment,
But in its passage.

To hold the moment is to destroy it –
The ending of the dance.

I think we are all dancers who live fully when we dance. There is no abstract right, wrong or perfect way to dance, for each dance is perfectly what it is. It is not about "shoulds," "musts," or "oughts," but only the dance in this, and every, present moment. We are called to the dance and in the dance we experience ourselves as a loving whole – at one with ourselves and all that surrounds us.

Loving whole – or one might say, loving God.
Or even, God’s Love.

Then again we could just sit this one out.