Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In Praise of Skittles

No, not bowling, or candy, though there is nothing wrong with either.

Skittles is our youngest cat, a little over 8 month old now. She is black and white, and my husband and I delight in her style as she bounces around the house. She prances, too, when she has something in her mouth that she is carrying around. Look, she says to us, I caught a scrap of wrapping paper! Look, I caught a toy!

Skittles is blind. Really blind: I took her to a veterinary ophthalmologist. When she was just a month old, she suffered a blow to the head, follwed by coma and a grand mal seizure. Both of her pupils expand and contract when a light shines in either one. In other words, her eyes talk to each other, but they don't talk to the visual center of the brain. We were briefly afraid that she was deaf, too, but she isn't. She can hear - she comes straight to her food bowl when she hears me open the cat food container. We (my husband and I) regularly turn to each other to ask, "How does she do that?"

Sometimes, when I tell people she is blind, they don't believe me. She zips around the house, and hardly ever bumps into anything. She always knows where she is and where she is going, which may be why she doesn't like to be scooped up. But sometimes, when she is playing, she loses track of her toy. There it is, right in front of her, but she can't see it.

Every step Skittles takes is into the dark. Every step. That may explain the prancing: she is checking the space in front of her for obstacles and testing the stability of her next footstep (or pawstep, I should say). But I'm not convinced by that explanation - as near as I can tell, she is fearless.

Into the Dark

For several years, it was my privilege to offer the children's sermon (or kids' talk) at church, alternating Sunday by Sunday with our rector. On the weeks I was scheduled, I'd check the lectionary for the coming Sunday, read the lessons carefully, and maybe do a little research on line, or using some reference books I had. Sometimes I read those lessons over and over. I was trying to find something that would grab the attention of the children and help them remember what we talked about.

About a year ago, the Psalm was a portion of Psalm 25. Some of the verses caught my attention.

"Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, ... Gracious and upright is the LORD; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly. All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies."

All right, I have to confess: these verses reminded me of a story I had read in a science fiction magazine, about a man running through a zone in which the area behind you is in the past, so you can turn and see behind you, but the area in front of you is the future, so you cannot see ahead.

On Sunday morning, I asked the organist to play some "dance music" when I signalled him during my talk with the kids.

I sat down with the kids, greeted them, and then I stood up and backed up a few steps. "I think we all go through life like that," I said; "We can see the past, but we can't see the future. We see the past when we remember, but we don't see the future before it happens, unless maybe in a dream, but dreams aren't always true."

I sat down again. "So, if we can't see the future, how can we know what the path of the Lord is? How can we choose the Lord's way, if we can't see where we're going? I've been wondering about that, and I thought of something."

I pulled out a picture I had printed from the Internet. It was a picture of two ballroom dancers, probably Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I showed it to the children.

"There are lots of kinds of dances, right? I bet we all know different kinds of dances." I asked a couple of the kids to get up and dance a little. They are not shy about this.

"In this kind of dancing, one dancer goes forwards, and can see where the couple is going. We say this dancer is 'leading.' The other partner goes backwards, and can't see where they are going. We say this dancer is 'following.' If you are following, you have to trust the leader to keep you going in the right path, even though you can't see it.

"I think that if we want to walk in the paths of the Lord, we have to dance with God. We have to let the Lord be our leader.

"Of course, you know what happens when a good dancer dances with someone who isn't very good. The good dancer's feet get stepped on a lot. I think that sometimes when I dance with God, I step on his feet. But he doesn't give up on me."

I stood up again, and picked up the Jesus Doll that we use in Sunday School. It's a pretty large doll, but not too big for me to carry comfortably. "Now, let me try this," I said, "are you ready, Lord?" and one of the boys started muttering, "Oh, no, this is going to be bad. This is going to be bad."

I asked the organist to play, and he did. It was a waltz, it sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. I started walking, or waltzing, backwards down the church aisle, holding the doll in front of me, and trying to hold it high enough so the doll could "see" behind me . I asked the children to follow. I suggested to the Jesus doll that we might try a twirl, but was gently reminded that a twirl would break the rule about not seeing the future, so we couldn't do it. And then I recognized the music that had being playing. "I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus." The organist didn't know what I'd be saying; he picked the hymn because it was a waltz. . . . I recognized it too late to sing along, but it was perfect.

Like Skittles, we all walk into the dark every day. Every step we take is into the dark, only we don't realize it. We think we can see where we are going, but who can see the future? Skittles doesn't know she is blind, either. If I call her, and she wants to come (she is a cat, after all) she doesn't hesitate. I may place a toy right in front of her, even tickle her paws with it, but she won't play with it unless she is ready to do so.

I wonder what gifts God has given me, that I fail to see. I wonder how many byways I have taken, trying to be the leader and not the follower, before God could lead me back. How many times I have bounced around and stepped on God's toes? Yet God loves me, and keeps calling me to the dance.

Ah, that is what Skittles is doing. She dances.

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