Like a Cat Asleep on a Chair, O Lord

"Sleeping Cat" (folk painting)

Spiritual Sunday

Sue Schmidt, who blogs at Let’s Choose Joy, knew that I would be swamped with student essays this week and (showing herself a true friend) generously contributed this lovely post on a D. H. Lawrence poem. Enjoy.

By Sue Schmidt, Blogger, Let’s Choose Joy

This week’s liturgy includes Psalm 23, perhaps one of the most known and loved pieces of poetry found in Hebrew Scriptures. (The text is quoted in a past post of Robin’s, which you can find here.) Attributed to King David, himself a shepherd, the poem unfolds as a joyous declaration of God’s provision, grounded in a relationship of complete trust.  The path to the kingship of Israel had been fraught with dangers for this young upstart, but God had proven to be faithful.

David is confident that God will provide green pasture, clear water, and guidance through the “valley of the shadow of death.” He will continue to be protected from evil, enemies and famine and followed by goodness and love.  And, like a sheep, at the end of the day’s journey he will be brought safely back by the shepherd into the fold, “the house of the Lord,” where he will dwell forever.

In the poem “Pax” by D. H. Lawrence, the image changes from that of sheep to cat. The sense of peace remains, however. Like the sheep, the cat is reassured by the presence of a life-giving God. Knowing that the master/mistress is “sitting at the board” allows a deep calm to settle into the heart. Anxiety is relinquished, sweet rest can be entered.

Lawrence’s poem in turn reminds me of another Psalm, this one also accredited to David. In this “Song of Ascents” (sung by Jews heading up to Jerusalem for worship), the poet refers to himself not as a sheep but as a weaned child, resting at the breast of his mother.

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
My eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
Or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child with its mother,
Like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:1-7)

A friend of mine noted that the difference between a nursing child and the child who is weaned is that the weaned child sees the mother as more than a source of nourishment. Over time, the child has discovered that all of her needs will be met.  Like the sheep, which is secure in the knowledge the shepherd can find green pastures and still waters and provide protection and safety, the toddler has no reason to fear any evil.

Whatever image is chosen–sheep, child, or cat–there is a common experience in these poems and also a welcome invitation: to quiet our own souls and allow ourselves to be cared for. At one with the God of life, we will find ourselves at home in the house of the living, peacefully at rest before the glowing hearth.

Pax

By D. H. Lawrence

All that matters is to be at one with You, the living God;
to be a creature in Your house, O God of Life!
Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world,
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of You, the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of a master, a mistress sitting on the board
in their own and greater being,
in the house of life.

Note on the painting: The sleeping cat painting can be found at contentinacottage.blogspot.com/2010/02/do-want-this-folk-painting-of-sleeping.html

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  • Barbara

    Thank you, Susan! I love the poem and the picture. As a lifelong cat lover who has been owned by several, I always thought that what I really wanted would be to be God’s cat! Blessings!

  • Robin Bates

    Your talking about being owned by your cats, Barbara, brought to mind Montaigne’s famous question in Pensees: “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not playing with me rather than I with her?”

  • http://www.letschoosejoy.com Sue

    Barbara,
    My friend, who loves this poem, (and suggested it be read weekly at church) also mentioned that the cat is an interesting choice, given that so often there is an ownership question of who owns who. In that light, perhaps Lawrence’s phrase “a greater being” has added significance. No matter how large our tasks or self image (even if rightly evaluated) it’s nice to know that the world doesn’t rely on us. On a Sabbath, especially, we can lie down and rest without worries.


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