Maggie again

Maggie leaps effortlessly up onto my desktop, treads li-2q4tfdh5hg8h9hsdfs-ghtly across the keyboard, and lays one small imperious paw on my left shoulder. The rest follows, almost immediately. I curve my arm up to support her, and she gives a good wiggle and settles down, purrbox revving. Ever since she was a baby, she's liked to cuddle up on this particular part of my anatomy, but now that she's a half-grown cat, she occupies a lot more space than she used to.

What's still so young about her is her (apparently absolute) belief that she owns my left shoulder--that she's entitled by right to curl up, with my arm underneath, supporting her, whenever the spirit moves her. In fact, sometimes I don't want to hold her. I want to get on with my writing or answer e-mail, and I am a two-handed typist. So I put her down, and she jumps up again, and I put her down, and she jumps up again... Sometimes we compromise and she curls up between me and the keyboard, which is reasonable. Sometimes she gives up and trots off to make the older cats' lives a little more miserable. But sometimes she's so persistent, I have to throw her out of my office and close the door.

That sense of prerogative belongs to the young, I think. Most of us learn sooner or later, more or less painfully, that there will always be a pea under the mattress and that the peasantry, instead of piling on the futons to our complete satisfaction, just stares at us and says "You expected maybe featherbeds?" We learn that life isn't going to revolve around us or give us everything we want, and we'd best get used to it and move on. The role of the princess (Maggie included!) isn't to have her every desire catered to. The role of the princess is to grow up. Same goes for princes.

For some of us that just doesn't happen. I don't know why: whether some failing of early nurturing left the person incapable of this sort of maturation, or whether it's the sign of an extremely strong and determined personality (or maybe both, or something else), but some of us simply refuse to give up our sense of entitlement. It's a very sad way to be, because anyone like this is going to be in for a whole lot of disappointment as the world fails to oblige. The truly determined blame everyone but themselves for this sad state of affairs: they're only asking for what's reasonable and their right, and what's everybody else's problem? Maggie knows what Maggie wants, and she sees no reason why she shouldn't get it.

Most of us, however, do learn from our disappointments, and we learn that we're certainly not always going to get what we want, and sometimes we won't get what we've honestly deserved. Sometimes there ain't no justice. Of course that cuts two ways (sometimes we should be deeply relieved that we don't get what we deserve!) but the injustice, when it's not in our favour, can be very hard to take. We've done such a good job, but the promotion goes to someone else. We worked so hard at the marriage, doing everything the experts said, and it still failed. We tried so hard with the kids, and they went off the rails. We're left holding only a bag of guilt and anger and disappointment, it seems.

It doesn't occur to us that there is an even bigger injustice lurking in life, a huge insult to our sense of natural justice --one that Christ described in the parable of the vinyard workers: the landowner hires workers at different times in the day, so that some put in a full day and others only an hour or so of work and then he pays them all the same amount. It's a maddening parable, especially because we always figure we'd be the early birds getting the shaft, not the late ones getting the bonus.

The injustice is God's grace. It isn't fair, it isn't reasonable, it is a deep offence to our sense of natural justice--in fact, it sometimes drives us buggy: but there it is. God offers unconditional love and forgiveness to all, even the people we disapprove of. The only thing he asks in exchange is that we accept these gifts of grace and, by that acceptance, allow him to transform our lives. We can, of course, refuse the gift: God is an insistent lover, but he has excellent manners and doesn't force on us what we don't want to accept. He delights in our "yes", but he will respect our "no."

The problem with "no" is that ultimately it leads to hell--not to Dante's Inferno or the younger Brueghal's grotesqueries, but to a private, personal hell of resentment and and rage and disappointment as we watch God's apparent injustice unfold. Why won't God punish our enemies the way we want? We want them to fry in hell; we want them writhing in the torments; we want them to stand before a vindictive God who hates them just as much as we hate them, and we want to be there to watch the expression on their faces as they realize what they're in for. We want God to be just as vindictive as we are, because that vindicates our resentment.

And God just won't oblige. Instead, if they want him, he's there for our enemies, too, like the father in the parable: running toward the prodigal, arms outstretched in love and longing, calling for jubilation. It's just not *fair*.

Our sense of outrage goes back to that sense of entitlement that we never quite outgrow. I am good and deserving, and I want X and deserve X, and if I don't get X, there's something wrong with the world, not with me. The more we concentrate on our own rights and the other guy's wrongs (in both senses of right/wrong), the deeper we dig ourselves into that combined state of entitlement and disappointment that leads straight into those good old sins of Pride and Anger.

Why won't God reward us for our righteousness as we deserve? It doesn't occur to us that maybe God doesn't want our best behaviour, much less the mindset that concentrates on being "righteous". Not one of us is up to God's standards of righteousness, after all. But God still wants *us*, "just as I am, without one plea", and he wants us most when we're shaky and vulnerable and unsure of ourselves, not when we're preening ourselves on what good people we are. He wants "our selves, our souls and bodies", in that state of utter emptied-out transparency, where we see how broken we truly are, how much we've been given and how little we've truly deserved.

Kittens are different. It is in the Maggieness of Maggie to grow from the bouncy selfishness of kittenhood to the more serene and dignified self-centredness of the adult cat, because that's what cats are about. The justified cat--the cat who became all the cat he or she could be--would still have that sense of entitlement, because it's hardwired into the feline personality, as anyone who lives with a cat knows. It's not in the feline deck of cards to grow, step by step and often very painfully, into this awareness of our own undeserving and God's loving mercy. (I suspect that God finds cats extremely restful.)

But we are human, and our best end is different from Maggie's. If we are to become all God designs us to be, we have to let go of that sense of entitlement/injustice, and to accept our need for mercy and grace, instead of trying to make sure that our enemies get it in the neck. God's grace is so deeply unjust, it means that sinners don't get what they deserve. Thank God for that.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 29 Jan 2000
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