Ermengarde’s Hymn Of Praise

As you know, all cats have their origins in Egypt, and as you might know, the ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun.  It makes sense then, that cats also worship the sun, being good Egyptians.  It has been a dark winter.  Humans have a hard time living in darkness and cats don’t much like it either.  Sometimes, very early on sunny winter mornings I have awakened to hear my cat crying and meowing.  When I look for her to see if anything is the matter, I  find her rolling around in a patch of sunlight that comes through the window.  She cries and run to me, and then runs back to the patch of sun to stretch out in it and it is clear that she is saying, “Look! This person has just come into our room! Let us welcome him by rolling around on his warm self!”

            “You go ahead, dear,” I tell her. “I’m going back to bed.”

            The other morning, say around 5 a.m., the cat woke me up again.  We’d had an awful lot of rain – remember? about eight days in a row —  and the sun was finally starting to shine again in the mornings.  I expected her to make quite a fuss, and she didn’t disappoint me.  But you know, it was worse than a fuss. She was making such eerie sounds  — unlike anything I had ever heard any animal make — that I remained frozen with fear for a moment. I finally got up to see if she was hurt, or if she was choking on a mouse or a toy and saw her – for heaven’s sake! — sitting quietly in the first ray of sunshine that was coming through the window.  She wasn’t meowing and rolling, she was making short, low, throaty sounds (grrrll-owwwl) and then quick, high sounds (chya! chya!) like a little girl catching her breath. And she repeated this sequence again and again, all the while sitting very much as you are sitting now, as if in a pew at church, in her little beam of sunlight, looking up at it with great love while she made these remarkable noises.

            I watched this for a minute or so, and it made the hair on the back of my neck prickle a little bit.  I certainly couldn’t go back to sleep.  “What is she doing?” I thought. “Who is she trying to talk to? Is she calling the mother ship?”

            I watched her and listened for a bit, feeling a kind of awe, and then I realized, oh my goodness… she’s singing.  She’s singing a little hymn of praise to the sun!  There’s no other possible explanation for this.  She’s comfortable, she’s not hungry, she’s not crying for a boy cat, there’s nothing outside the window to see, she’s not making this noise for my benefit…she’s singing.  In her own little cat way, she is sitting in her little beam of sunlight responding to the beauty of the morning.  She is expressing her religion.  I have not been able to get it out of my mind.

[This is part of a sermon I gave in 2005. Ermengarde died at the ripe old age of 18 on July 31, 2019. She was a beautiful being and spiritual teacher until the end. – PB]

All Souls Zoom Gathering

Those of us who have lost loved ones since the pandemic have mostly been denied rituals of grieving and the comfort of visits with friends and family.

It has been excruciatingly painful to mourn alone, or mostly alone, and to try to move forward without important rites of passage such as memorial services, sitting shiva, opening the house to visitors, and gathering for commitals where we could freely embrace each other.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to attend a Zoom Gathering on All Souls Sunday just for us, for those who are part of this sad collective of those who understand. This will be a spiritual offering not in any particular tradition, affirming of our shared humanity and need for compassion.

I will email you with the Zoom invite. Please leave the name of the beloved person you would like to remember so I can include them in the Litany of Remembrance.

For the ritual, please prepare a candle that you can light and a glass of your favorite libation.


High-Speed Train

I rode the Eurostar from London to Paris, which I have never done before.  I dragged my suitcases from the Airbnb flat in Kensington to the Gloucester Road Tube station, got on the Piccadily line and thought vicous things about the cows who were sitting right near the door when they could have moved over three seats to the empty ones and let me sit with my big suitcases.

I use “cow” as an insult for all humans who lumber along in life without any awareness of those around them. I am hyper-aware of those around me and apologize profusely when I am selfish or inconsiderate when I should have realized that a simple action could have provided some relief to someone else. It’s not a sacrifice to scoot down a few seats. I hadn’t had any tea or coffee or food and I was cranky. Still, I judge. I most definitely do.  A bit of attentiveness costs nothing.

I got to St. Pancras and stood in line for security and passport control and I found my seat and stowed my luggage and got all settled on the train (window seat) and sat happily contemplating the next leg of my journey. I had a tremendously delicious latte at a stall called Source at St. Pancras, where I also asked for “some bread and cheese” and was sent on my way with an enormous container full of huge slabs of delicious cheddar and something soft and runny and a third kind of slightly tangy frommage and some toasts. A feast! I brought it to my hosts in Paris and we will be eating it all week.

As I sat in comfortable tranquility and watched the landscape whiz by I remembered traveling as a very young woman and becoming aware that my interior monologue was relentlessly frightened and self-critical. These were my first adventures in solitude and I became attuned to myself for the first time in a way that I suppose some adults never actually do. Solitude eventually emerged as my lifestyle, perhaps vocation? — and my internal monologue at this age is mostly concerned with things on the ministerial to-do list, thoughts about life, death and God, a bit of worrying and thinking about friends and loved ones (still a category of more insecurity than most others in my life), dog details and housekeeping. I am not rattled by insecure or self-critical thoughts although I have very little skill in dismantling them, whereas I have developed a fairly high level of skill in interrogating and untangling insecure and other-critical thoughts; particularly in catching myself catastrophizing or projecting.

I am grateful for that. Now, perhaps, I can learn some effective ways to disarm the monster who lives in my head who takes up arms against myself. That monster is so deeply hidden, I only hear rumblings when she is active. She tends not to speak in complete sentences, she just shrieks and throws things and is as irrational as my parents were when they were in their fits of rage or addiction.

But today on the train there was no monster and no anxiety or fear. I am an experienced enough traveler to think a few steps ahead and get where I am going — and by the way, I am not going to Venice as I had planned, because I trust my instincts by now — and I like myself as a traveling companion.

I recognize now that the extreme anxiety I experienced when traveling in my youth actually caused me to dissociate, as happened on the beach in Antigua when I was 18 years old and on a senior trip with three of my girlfriends. The three of them went horseback riding one afternoon and I decided to go to the beach by myself. When I settled myself in the sand, I experienced a jolting sensation of the world rocking and went blind for a few seconds, after which I saw shooting stars everywhere and felt that I no longer existed. It was one of the earliest memories I have of literally losing my mind and it scared me badly. I decided to patiently wait where I was until my senses returned, so there I sat on a beautiful tropical beach, a young, pretty teenager trying to stay sane.

I was probably dehydrated and God knows if we had been eating enough food. We were drinking like fishes, far away from home and on our own. I remember the trip very fondly in general but I have not forgotten the tilting earth and my momentary blindness. Stress, anxiety, a fragile psyche, I was a kid whose father had recently died and who was living alone at home with an actively alcoholic living parent and a kid brother, sitting thousands of miles away under a too-hot sun with only three peers to rely on if my brain didn’t start functioning right again. We got through it. I am still close friends with two of those three peers and I feel protected by their good cheer, their confidence in and love for me now as I did then.

This morning: navigate the Tube. Use the Oyster Card. Find the platform. Get the coffee, bread and cheese. Load the luggage. Take the journey.  Disembark, find the toilet. Learn the toilet cost .70 Euros. Locate the bank machine, obtain the euros. Return to the toilet with the help of a friendly nun. Protect the bags, the passport, the phone from pickpockets. Call an Uber.  Find the Uber, who is parked a block away. Find the apartment code. Load the self and the luggage into the tiny lift. Be received in warm, welcoming arms of friends. Eat dinner, have some wine, load the laundry. Plan tomorrow.

Write. Remember. Thank God for the sound mind and body, for the accumulation of experiences, of years, of journeys.