It was a pleasant moment standing outside a Ukrainian government building yesterday in the next town over. The words pleasant and government building are foreign companions on most visits. The sun was shining, and I was strolling around a surprisingly well groomed meadow-like space, with some shade trees, a sidewalk and some large stones for sitting. Natasha was inside filling out forms for some new Covid-19 regulations, and I found myself pondering.
I left my phone at the house. This added to the space to think, look up and enjoy the bright blue sky, shifting clouds and gentle wind. I was present. I wasn’t checking messages, responding to the urgent, I was in the moment, listening, being.
I noticed this black cat strolling down the sidewalk from afar. It was a youth, not a kitty, but not yet a cat. It wasn’t in a hurry, walking straight for me, at least I thought. Standing on the same sidewalk, I felt a certain kind of mercy and kindness towards this cat. I’m not a cat person, so I found it interesting. I crouched down, and decided I wouldn’t reach for it, or scare it away, but let it simple come. I could imagine its fluffy fur encircling me, happy that I had stooped down to recognize it, offering some interaction and physical attention. As it lazily approached, the anticipation grew. I was squatting down, smiling, it was approaching.
The cat walk inches past my leg, and without a second thought, continued it’s purposeful stroll to nowhere, right past me, without even a wink of acknowledgement. The oddity of the moment was surreal. I was just dissed by a Ukrainian house cat. I began to laugh, and then think, and think.
The black cat is the false self.
While I continued processing the rather hurtful actions of the cat, I found myself reflecting on the nature of my relationships. We have all kinds of relationships in life, but we all have those that for whatever reason, fail to see their hurtful actions or words. Why did this cat disrespect me? Did it at some point intentionally decide I wasn’t worth it’s time? Was there something about me that turned it off? My colors, smell, gender, nationality? Then I realized how absurd these ideas were, the cat isn’t thinking as a human, it’s thinking as a cat.
I began to think of those I have the most meaningful relationships with. They acknowledge my being, they are vulnerable, trusting, and kind. Those I am in deeper fellowship with recognize my short comings, but it doesn’t effect our mutual respect because we are embracing our true, broken selves. We have nothing to prove to one another, no exterior lattice of the human experience to protect or reputations to uphold. When true self humans interact, they share a mutual reciprocity for one another and solidarity with the human race; they don’t walk past, lost in their own project black cat world.
So back to the cat. The black cat, like the false self, is not rejecting the other, because it’s not acknowledging or capable of relating to the true self human. Those living into the false self, or the projected ‘I want everyone to see me this way’ branded self, are interested only in using others and things to protect and preserve the legacy of their personhood. Deep inside the black cat, it’s not rejecting me, the squatting foreigner with open heart and hand ready for petting, it’s rejecting that objects particular utilitarian use in the moment. Therefor, I can take refuge in the fact that the cat isn’t rejecting ME, because in it’s current state, it lacks the capacity to know anything but itself.
The black cat is a self reflecting mirror.
As the cat strolled past, it didn’t give one moment’s notice to my feelings. It didn’t think, “Oh sorry, I’m on my way to the food dish” as it recognized the hardness of it’s cat heart. It had not remorse, nor pity towards me for assuming all cats like to be petted. It was solely interested in itself, a black selfish cat is not acting rudely, it’s fulfilling it’s base desires without the concern for the other. So too the false self. At times the false self may act in a manner that seems kind, or even true, but all such mannerisms are a farce, material used in the continued fictional drama unfolding they wish you to believe as true.
There are, I believe, two kinds of rejection. An active, and passive rejection. I, like many of my fellow sojourners I’m finding, struggle with rejection. Who doesn’t want people to respect you? For most of my young adult life, even into my early 40’s I was secretly striving for acceptance. This pursuit led me into many different places and spaces. To be rejected, or misunderstood was like, and still is at times, my achilles heal. I envy those that take criticism in stride, they seem so much more healthy! The cat, however, helped me to understand today that while active rejection is possible and a probably part of life, most of the rejection that I have struggled with has come from a place of passive, black cat like being.
The black cat isn’t rejecting me actively, but passively because it’s a cat.
While it hurts to be called a name, sometimes that name is quite accurate. If we make a mistake, we embrace it, learn from it, and grow. That’s life. To experience the temporary pain of verbal or social rejection is an opportunity to grow in all cases, but especially if the accusations are true! In this sense, active rejection, or we could say denouncing (to declare something as wrong) a gift in our lives, which can come from best friend next door, or distant acquaintance across the globe. Faithful are the wounds of a friend! It’s the sneaky verbal kisses of the enemy that we should be cautious of.
Passive rejection is when someone dismisses your opinion, ideas, words, or actions from a place of false being. The black cat doesn’t know itself, it’s operating in base cat mode, thinking of itself, and unaware of the deep human relatedness surrounding it. The passive rejection is not an intentional slight against you, it’s not something you need to consider and take inventory over, because the black false self cat doesn’t even recognize you, it only sees itself. Consider if the cat would have stopped, allowed me to pet it, and showered me with purring love. Would the cat have truly been respecting and acknowledging my humanity? No! The selfish beast would have simply decided in that moment that it wanted some physical attention, and used me. The black cat, the false self, is incapable of actively rejecting ‘me’, only passively rejecting me on its way towards a selfish existence.
For me, this all begs the question, “How do we know who is being true, and who is being false?” My answer to this is simple. You can’t. The problem is that for most of us, we are a mixed bag of true and false self. Life is a journey, a process, and for this formational process we were made. As we rest into the true person of integrity that God has made, we recognize that our being, although marred by sin and so much unfortunate experience in this life, is deeply loved. In this place of identity and acceptance in God, we can be vulnerable, to varying degrees, with all sorts of people. Yes, some will be black cats, they will walk right past us, ignoring our value as human, but we can still squat down and be prepared to interact. It might sting for a moment as they dismiss us, but we can learn to take joy – this is the liberty of love. Others we are fortunate enough to find are more than willing to interact, and share this journey with, as we accept one another. For those friends, I am most thankful, and need them to truly know myself, and God.
To the black cats in my life, I am thankful for what you are teaching me.
I am thankful for the love of Jesus Christ that suffered my own shame, yet humbled Himself beyond just squatting on a sidewalk, but hanging publicly on a tree to get my attention. You are calling us all, recognizing us each by name, and calling us each into this love.