Finding Spiritual Meaning

A week filled with senseless public events is a good week to look for meaning.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat found meaning in the Boston bombing when she wrote a blog post celebrating the helpers – people who rush in to support the injured and confused.

Here in Vancouver, Canada, I am more concerned with local events. Particularly those on Sophia Street.

Despite all our security systems and protective protocols, Koi the cat attacked Buddy the bird.

Technically, Koi tried to play with Buddy. Perhaps you can’t blame him. Each species has its own inherited rituals and routines. Buddy plays by taking short flights, daring you to follow him, and laughing as you chase him. Koi plays by leaping and batting with his unsheathed claws at things that fly.

From Buddy’s perspective, Koi’s game sure looked like an attack. So that’s how I responded.

Leaping forward, I slipped on a rug, fell up two stairs, and landed splayed out in an awkward position.

Buddy and Koi, startled, looked at me and separated. Buddy retreated to his cage, and sat inside sulking. An embarrassed Koi ran for the back door. Within twenty minutes, Koi was back home. Within two hours, Buddy was eating and chirping merrily.

Meanwhile, I gained three bruises, a bloody scrape, and a pulled muscle. Left more off-balance than I realized, the next day I fell doing yoga and got an additional scrape. And fell again reaching for a book and got an additional bruise.

Celebrate the helpers. Sigh.

Perhaps all the security systems and protocols in the world cannot fully protect us. Perhaps we will always be vulnerable to a freak attack. Let’s keep in mind the fragility of life and hold it precious.

Perhaps what can seem like a daring game to one person is actually a deadly strike at others. We should heed this principle even in our own less violent spheres of action. Sometimes a sarcastic verbal strike or a poorly thought out prank can be deeply hurtful.

Perhaps helpers take more of a battering than we realize. We take them for granted, when we should attend to their healing as well.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. From this real-life animal parable, I can draw metaphorical threads to many spiritual lessons.

And that in itself is a fascinating spiritual lesson.

Because if I’m a spiritual seeker, the entire universe becomes my spiritual teacher. My cat, my bird, my fall, my bruise: each one “points beyond itself,” as philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel says, towards a deeper reality. Each one catches my attention. Each invites me to ask who I am and what I am doing with my “one wild and precious life,” as poet Mary Oliver says.

Sometimes religious people compartmentalize the world into two separate spheres: holy and ordinary, or sacred and profane. For them, the narrow holy sphere can only be entered by following specific steps in thought or behaviour. Yet even they admit that the holy can burst through in ordinary life. In times of crisis, they pray, hold vigils, and offer spiritual comfort. Sometimes they say that God has appeared in a terrifying, unfathomable way, beyond anything their theology can explain.

It certainly seems so to me at times! And if I can admit that God sometimes shows up outside the bounds of official religious practice, surely I can admit that God often shows up out of bounds. In my cat. In my bird. In my bruises and scrapes. And in my unending search for meaning.

Sometimes spiritual seekers reject formal religion. To them, religion may seem dry, remote, outdated or even silly.

True confession: it certainly seems so to me at times! But because I know I can find meaning in a bird and a cat, I try harder in the formal religious sphere. I let rituals, prayers and dogmas point beyond themselves. And I find the most meaningful spiritual lessons when I step just a bit out of bounds.

Image: Koi and Buddy in a calmer moment. Photo by LDK. Cross-posted at OnSophiaStreet.

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