She came into my life ten years ago, and has served as a muse, as a comfort, and even a sacrament. In fact, from the beginning she struck me as the embodiment of a means of grace, hence the name I gave her as she first wandered the downstairs of my parsonage in Woodland: Grace.
She came to me one day when Carol, the treasurer of my local congregation, called me. She informed me she had discovered a kitten underneath her porch a week before, and had taken it to the local vet. The kitten was only a few weeks old, but the vet indicated if Carol couldn’t find her a home, he needed to put her to sleep. Carol’s own cat had responded poorly to the kitten, so she wondered if I could take her for a while.
I did, and that “while” became a bit longer. Grace was purring the moment she and Carol got out of the car. She purred as she came into her new home, and was still purring an hour later, when I left her downstairs to continue exploring by herself as I wandered upstairs. I could still hear her, even from the second floor!
As much as I might love Lynn, Grace’s purr remained my favorite sound in the world until the birth of our first child. And, honestly, even after both Will and Kate were born, and cried, and laughed, and began to talk, Grace’s purr remained, at times, the more pleasing and comforting of sounds. A loud throaty rumble that signaled joy, peace, contentment.
In fact, Gracie’s purr became for me the very model of prayer. The times she would lay on my chest, purring until one or the both of us dozed off into restful sleep, reminded me of the desire and hope I have in God. At my best, my hope for my prayer life is to find the same kind of comfort and contentment in the presence of God that Gracie demonstrated in my arms. She seemed to have a perfect assurance of my love, complete trust in me, and she seemed to enjoy expressing her love… This struck me, and still does, as a wondrous goal for a life of prayer.
Grace was very likely the “runt” of her particular litter, and she remained the smaller of our three cats. But she also remained my special girl. When we lived alone together in Woodland, she would follow me upstairs at bedtime, curling up with me in the blankets on my (borrowed) twin bed. When I was commuting thirty miles each day to serve a church in Charleston, she would literally run to the door to the garage when she heard the garage door going up, waiting for me to walk through the door at the end of the day. Even here, she was the only one of our three cats who would come to me when I called her by name, or would follow me when I invited her to do so.
Lynn discovered Grace acting sick last Wednesday, while I was away in San Francisco. She took her to the vet that evening, and called me immediately. My little Gracie was in renal failure, and our options were limited. So I actually came home, three days early, on a Thursday morning flight; and Gracie was clearly not well. She could only walk a few feet before she would fall over and rest. That afternoon, I held her in my arms, much like I had when she first came into my life, as she left this one.
I once had a Seminary professor who indicated that animals didn’t have souls, so weren’t capable of eternal life. Thankfully, that is not what I read in the Bible. What I read is God’s promise of resurrection and re-creation; that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. One day, I’m confident that the God of all Creation – who so loved the world that He gave us not only his only begotten Son (that whosoever believes in him might have eternal life) but also cats and dogs and squirrels and birds – will restore and recreate Grace. Whether or not I encounter her or experience her peaceful purr again, I know that as much as any of us, Grace was and is beloved of God.