I was recently and unpleasantly startled as those disciples on a stormy Sea of Galilee when Jesus came wandering to them on water between the lashing waves of the night. As those disciples were shocked, I too thought I saw a ghost in the night.
It had been a very long day that began when I was rudely interrupted from my dreams at 4:00am. But after the toil of another long day, the stars of the night were finally about to twinkle on as I prepared to relinquish my labored body to another moment of sweet solitude in the midst of another enchanting forest of trees.
The pestering monkeys of that far away location had finally given up their relentless raid on my exposed food in the back of the White Rhino (my truck). They had deviously cheated me out of some of my precious vitals because I had carelessly left my window open. But now everything was calm. The monkey wars were over and I was now alone in order to shut down a nervous system that had experienced too much in a single day for an old man.
The firmament of the heavens had now darkened. The wondrous canopy of twinkling stars now began their majestic performance in the absence of the sun, with the cheering audience of the moon and myself in attention. So as I shuffled this and that as an encircling mother animal preparing her nest for her little ones for the night, I glanced to my left and briefly noticed a “white tree stump” at a near distance. It was there in the dim light that only heavenly bodies can provide. In the moment, I thought nothing of the mysterious apparition, but wondered why a tree stump would give a dim glow of appearance in the night. Nevertheless, I took no more notice of the supposed imagination, and carried on with my nest preparations. I had already subconsciously cuddled up in a sleeping bag, ready for another adventure into the dreamland of sleep.
Once I had assured myself that I could nestle comfortably and safely in my nest, I again noticed that unusual “white tree stump.” I had not notice it there when I first parked amidst the trees of this newly discovered forest camp. Nevertheless, my curiosity took over. So I focused through the imposing night with an intense stare. The natural thing to do when one stares so intensely through aged eyes is to hunker down and focus. And then . . . I got the fright of my life. The “white tree stump” also hunkered down and stared back at me.
Now my heart was racing. Muscles tensed. Stomach knotted. I had long forgotten the slumber of a long day. I was shocked into a sudden reality that this was a creature! It was a creature in the night that had been standing off over there for some time, just observing cautiously my every move, possibly making some plan for attack.
A revengeful “ghost monkey” flashed through my vivid imagination, thinking that the illusive creature was going to lay claim to my settlement as soon as I dozed off into dreamland. With all the self-control that I could muster up for the moment, I held back doing what those disciples did centuries ago when they thought that they saw a ghost on the stormy Sea of Galilee. They cried out! My outcry was strenuously contained by a vocal system that had now gone dead for fright.
But then after assessing that my kitchen-utensil weapons and strategy would lead to conquest because the night creature was smaller than me, I concluded that I could overpower it by suffering only a few scratches and bites here and there in our mortal confrontation. So with very cautious steps, and cooking weapons in hand, I eased toward this ghost creature of the night whom I would fiend off from my settlement.
But then, something very unsettling happened. The ghostly “tree stump” also advanced by taking a step toward me. Even more frightening, and what seemed to be a two-edged sword, flipped up behind the advancing creature.
What could I do? I stopped breathing and prepared for a mortal conflict between a razor sharp two-edged sword and my dull cooking utensils. But then for a moment, we both stopped dead in our own tracks. In my mind I concluded that we both were waiting for an attack to come from the opposite party. But then again, the night creature commenced to enter into the war zone for conflict by moving forward. My mind was running wild. My knuckles whiten around my cooking weapons.
But then out of the silence of the night in this enchanted forest, I heard a familiar sound that totally disarmed me. It was the purring of a cat. As the ghost creature in the night cautiously approached closer, it was as if a thousand muscles in my body settled into tranquil neutrality. I was overcome with rejoicing and relief after being disarmed from a possible mortal confrontation with some creature of the wild. The mysterious creature was a ginger-colored “camp cat” who had flipped up his “two-edged” tale, not a sword in order to engage in conflict, but in peace talks. With his tale, he simply wanted to signal to me that we both should engage one another in peace.
I wondered what was going through his own mind as he too stood tense at a distance and surveyed the two-legged “night creature” who had invaded his settlement. After observing the nonthreatening behavior of this two-legged creature, he had first decided to stand at a distance in the night until the two-legged creature could reveal his intentions. And then, he took on the challenge of changing me. He came close, just as Jesus came close to me in order to transform the hostility of my ways into His ways.
It seems that I cannot make a long story short about this chance encounter in the night between two creatures of God in a far away forest. That cat knew how to draw out of me every ounce of affection I had to offer for animals. He drew righteousness out of me towards animals. In order to do this, he just came as close as possible. He threw himself down at my feet, and washed my feet with the silk of his cozy fir. I melted in response to the gesture of His affection. I could only lean down and scratch a head that could not show enough affection for me. He was the opposite of the character of the monkeys who could only think of what they could come and take. This curious cat only wanted to come and give his affection. What he received in response was only the serendipity of his affection.
So laying aside the kitchen weapons of my imagined carnal warfare, I had to return the favor for his affection. Jesus has washed my feet so many times, I cannot stop living in gratitude. Somehow I just keep looking for dirty feet. I keep loving because He keeps loving me.
Jesus did not stand at a distance and wish for me to respond with love. It was as John said, “We love because He first loved us.” There is nothing more powerful to stir love in our hearts than to see someone at our feet with a towel.
It was then that I remembered the words of my mother, words that she said more than once throughout my early years on the farm. “A righteous man regards the life of his animal.” And for the night in that far away camp forest, that ghostly cat was my God-provided animal. I began to understand what my mother sought to teach her children with these precious words of Solomon. That cat drew out of me righteousness, that is, doing right in reference to one’s animal.
When we begin to understand that God so loved the world that He sent His beloved Son into a dark world of “sinful animals,” where there was no one worth such a love offering, it is then that we seek to emulate the same righteousness for any creature who is beneath us. The righteous man passes on the affection (love) that was extended toward him through the incarnational offering of the Son of God on the cross. As God regarded our life, so we regard the life of any animal.
So on that night I regarded my animal, a camp cat that had yearned for affection as I yearned for God’s love. That cat was no different than ourselves in reference to the loving grace of God. Throughout the night until I bedded down in my nest, he simply stayed as close as possible to my affection. He continued to roll on his back at my feet, awaiting any generous scratching that I might relish upon him. And finally, after a shared morsel of food for the night, I tucked myself comfortably away for my expected coma. As I lay down my head, I then wondered where my animal might go for the night.
After some time in dreamland, the first tweet of a morning bird signaled that the stars had given way to the rising sun that brought on another day. I looked outside my cocoon window and saw that the rising sun said I had had enough sleep. It was time to accomplish more for Him in the blessing of another day.
After morning prayer in bed for an hour or so, I began to wonder where my animal had rested for the night. That question did not linger long in my mind when I saw my animal come stretching out from under my vehicle. He had made his bed for the night under the vehicle of the one who had returned loving affection for him. That is what love does. We gravitate to those who hold dirty towels that have washed our feet.
So my animal resumed his normal unpretentious pose . . . sitting off over there at a distance, observing my preparation for my breakfast of coffee and porridge that I prepared for myself from my own food supply. The kettle steamed, the coffee was prepared, and the porridge was mixed in my bowl. My animal just sat there and observed all my narcissistic preparation for myself.
And then I had to surrender as my Lord surrendered for me. I had an extra bowl and milk. So into the bowl the milk was shared. I made only a glance at my animal, and he immediately came running to my love offering. He submerged himself in the milk with lapping that echoed throughout the trees. I likewise indulged myself in my bowl of porridge. We ate together.
I felt good about having regard for my animal that God had provided for me for the night. Whether a test, or just coincidence, my mother’s repetition of Solomon’s words throughout my young life continued to ring in my memory: “A righteous man regards the life of his animal.” That ghost in the night extracted righteousness out of me. He was a stranger that now had become a friend. I envisioned heading down the road toward home with a two-edged ginger tail dangling out the back window.
Something happened on that morning that reminded me of all those selfish prayers that I had already uttered. I just kept asking God for this and that. I asked for a safe day of travel. I asked for opportunities to preach Jesus. I asked to bless or protect this person and that person. I asked Him to bless the mission that I was struggling to complete. I asked without end.
After my animal scarfed down the milk of blessing in his bowl, he look up at me with those squinted eyes, that could only mean one thing: “Please, my bowl is empty.” I looked into his desperation, wondering where he would ever get his next meal. That slightly titled head and squinting eyes broke down every power of resistance that I could muster. I relinquished.
I looked into my bowl that was still half full of porridge, looked at him, and then said, “You ask for my porridge also?” I knew his reply. It was by now as if there was a mental path of telepathy between two of us.
So I stooped down, scratched his head to draw again that precious purring, and then set down the remainder of my bowl of porridge before him. What else could I have done? I just think God invented purring to soften the hearts of those who have little regard for animals.
I am sometimes embarrassed because I keep asking, and asking, and asking God for so much. But the incredible thing that I try to comprehend is that He keeps setting down porridge before me. I keep purring through prayers of thanksgiving, and He keeps putting before me exceedingly, abundantly more than what I expect or deserve. “Thank you, Jesus.”
My response to His security is as those relieved disciples of Jesus on that now calm sea. Jesus entered into their boat, and only that which is natural, happened, “They worshiped Him.”