Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wamba and Eternity

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:11-13

Last Friday we said goodbye to Wamba. He was, of a certainty, the best cat who ever lived. For the past 15 months he has been on chemotherapy (Yes, there is such a thing as chemotherapy for cats. And there are veterinary oncologists.). The tumors on his brain eventually grew beyond the capacity of the drugs to retrain them, and Wamba gradually developed neurological symptoms. His legs went out from under him. He could not turn around without falling.

But still, he greeted the veterinarian and the veterinary technician when they came to the door. He purred and we patted him. Then the sedative took over and he just lay quietly as the vet administered the final injection.

He was always “the up and down kitty,” following us every time we went up on down the stairs. As we started up the stairs, we would hear padded paws on the carpet, and then a whistling sound as his long fur rustled and he shot past us up the stairs. We called him “Wamba of the singing paws.” Toward the end, when he had trouble walking, he would still follow us, but instead of the singing paws, we would hear a thump as he dragged a reluctant rear leg behind him.

He was Carolyn’s cat for many years. When she left for college, he would patiently lead us into her room several times each day, and look up at us as if to ask how we had lost her. He did that every single day for more than 6 years. Wamba was like the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15). Within our household, he was the shepherd, seeking each of us when he thought we were lost. He constantly watched over us.

It was good that he died after All Saints Sunday, rather than before. In the All Saints service we ring bells for those who have died during the past year, calling out the names as we ring. I don’t think I could have gotten through it without ringing a bell for Wamba.

In his retrospective review of “Context,” Martin Marty reprinted this quotation from Madeleine L’Engle, “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ, and the resurrection of the body of all creatures great and small, not the literal resurrection of this tired body, this broken self, but the body as it was meant to be, the fragmented self made new; so that at the end of time all Creation will be One. Well: Maybe I don’t exactly believe it, but I know it, and knowing is what matters.”

I don’t know what that means, but I think I believe it, too.

When I was a child, I believed in a life after death, which was like this life, only better. In that new and heavenly life, Lou Gehrig was still hitting home runs (and Barry Bonds would have had NO chance of ever catching Babe Ruth, let alone Henry Aaron). And in my childhood image, Wamba would be sitting and purring in the sun. (This image would be somewhat complicated by the fact that if Wamba were truly himself in this new heavenly life, he would assume that he was in charge of everything there, just as he had been in charge here on earth . . .)

When I put away childish things, I gave up the images of childhood, and I realized as Paul did, that we “see in a mirror, dimly.” There is so much we cannot know. But Paul asserts that love is the force that holds us together. God’s love for us, and our love for God and for one another. And love is not lost. I think Madeleine L’Engle is right, “the fragmented self” will be “made new,” and in the end “all Creation will be One.” We come from God and we go to God.

And I believe that what is true for us is also true for the whole of creation. “All things bright and beautiful; all creatures great and small.” The One who holds the present also holds the future. Nothing is ever lost.

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