The Peace of Wild Things

Read: Psalm 104

You make darkness when it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out. The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens (Psalm 104: 20-22, NRSV).

Over the years I have learned a lot from my cats.

Mrs. Whiskers taught me about the risks and rewards of self-sacrifice. (She ran herself ragged hunting for her well-fed kittens.) Magnificat taught me that if you open your mouth to brag, the bird will fly away. (Maggie was my last indoor/outdoor cat.) Teacup taught me how liberating it is when a bully leaves your life. (Her real life began the day the dog died.)

For lessons on how to enjoy life, however, Marmalade surpassed all her predecessors. I knew from the moment I met her that she was special. I had walked over to my neighbor’s house under the illusion that I was there to “interview” an abandoned kitten for possible adoption. I had no more than sat down before “herself” ran confidently across the room, jumped up on my lap, and started to purr. Marmalade had decided that I would be her human.

I’m sorry to be going on so about my cats, but there is biblical precedent for it. In Psalm 104 the psalmist goes on and on about all manner of creatures—including Marmalade’s wild cousins, the lions. And Psalm 104 is just a warm-up for Job 38-41, where God lets loose with a loving litany about all creatures great and small. Even Leviathan merits a mention in 41:1-5. God, evidently, has a special relationship with that mythical sea-monster, who speaks “soft words” to its creator and agrees to let God lead it around on a leash!

Creatures have a unique to ability delight, amuse, and amaze. True, we may not want to get too close to some of the scary ones, but we can’t help but be in awe of them. And while we sometimes put a lot of effort into teaching them to do tricks, it turns out that they may have some tricks to teach us as well.

I thought of this the other day when I stumbled on a poem by Ted Hughes.* It’s called simply, “Cat,” and it points out all the reasons we need our cat when we “slump down all tired and flat with too much town…with too much headache, video glow, and too many answers [we] never will know.” You can read the whole poem here, but the last few stanzas may be sufficient to make my point. They offer an important reminder of one of the ways we can seek shalom in these stressful times:

Then stroke the Cat

That warms your knee

You’ll find her purr

Is a battery

For into your hands

Will flow the powers

Of the beasts who ignore

These ways of ours

And you’ll be refreshed

Through the Cat on your lap

With a Leopard’s yawn

And a Tiger’s nap.

Cats, as it turns out, have a few things to teach us. Happy are those whom they choose as their humans.

Ponder this beautiful setting of Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things. For the text of this poem and the option to hear it read by the author, see this link to the NPR program, On Being.

Pray: Help us to come into the peace of wild things. Lead us into the presence of still water. May we rest in the grace of the world and be free.


*”Cat” by Ted Hughes in Collected Poems for Children (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), 19.