Doin' What Comes Naturally

The mice are all asleep, and the great outdoors is a chilly place at the moment. Maggie-cat likes her creature comforts, so she's staying in a lot. But Maggie-cat has a low threshold for boredom, and a bored tortoiseshell cat is a terrible thing. The vet warned me, when I brought Maggie in for her first shots, that there is such a thing as the tortoiseshell/calico temperament, and it is not sweetness and light. Maggie, it seems, has a full measure of that temperament, packed down and flowing over. She is bright, aggressive, demanding, playful, carnal as all bedamned, and as vivid as her coat. She is not nice. Nice doesn't come into it. The family line about Maggie-cat is that she's only evil on days that end with a "y" and in months with a vowel in them.

So there we were, placidly disposed about the living room: me with my knitting, Max-cat snoring slightly beside me, black-cat Dynamite under the Christmas tree drinking from the tree dish, and Jenny-cat peacefully asleep in the rocker--and Maggie gets down from her chair, sidles across the room, and without a hint of warning jumps on Jenny. Maggie tends to regard Jenny as her personal chew-toy. Jenny snarls, leaps free and goes squirreling off at high speed for the upstairs, with Maggie in hot pursuit. I catch Maggie half-way up the stairs, grabbing her firmly around her fleshy midriff despite her claws and wiggles, and do the standard routine when this happens: I open the front door one-handed and hurl Maggie into a nearby snowbank. Maggie lands neatly, resigned. She knows what's going to happen if she jumps Jenny. It's just that sometimes Maggie thinks it's worth the snowbank, just to get a little action.

It is in the nature of cats to do what comes naturally: in Maggie's case, to establish her tortoiseshell dominion over the other cats, and to play and play rough. While I can't let Maggie get away with it, I also can't judge her as wrong for Jenny-bashing: it's simply the way cats work, and you can't expect anything more, and especially not of tortoiseshells.

But the same isn't true of us. We are expected, according to the Gospels, to act in ways that don't come naturally at all: forgiving the hurts that are done to us; not trying to wiggle out of our responsibility for the poor; turning our backs on what (we think) should concern us most; not dumping the old bag in favour of a younger, slimmer model; not passing snap judgments on others. None of it comes naturally.

Somebody hurts us (or we are hurt, and blame that somebody when perhaps we should be blaming ourselves?) and our natural response is to try to hurt the other person back, just as hard and nastily as we can. Unless someone decides to act unnaturally and put an end to the cycle of hurt and revenge, we're right back in Northern Ireland or the Balkans or the West Bank.

If Mary had done what came naturally, she'd probably have said "No way, Jose!" to the angel; or at the very least, "'Scuse me, do you mind waiting a minute while I go check this with my intended?" If Joseph had done what came naturally, he'd have rejected this girl who'd gone and gotten herself pregnant without his having any part of it, or at the very least he'd have treated her firstborn as a cuckoo in the nest. Herod did what came naturally--he acted to protect his own power and to defend himself against a potential threat. And look where it got him.

At the same time, however, the Kingdom way leads to some other rather unnatural acts: resurrection, for example. The healing of what seemed unhealable. A sinless Jewish man talking intimately, one-on-one, with a Samaritan woman with a problematic sexual past. Walking on water. Turning water into wine and multiplying loaves and fishes. It doesn't matter whether these things are literal historical truths: what matter is that choosing the Kingdom pulls us free of the power of evil and loss and sin and death--those oh-so-natural ills.

It's a choice, like the choice that Jesus gave the rich young man: you can go with the flow, or you can choose to go against it--but going against it is going to take you in some interesting directions. God doesn't promise that it will all come round as we want it to: none of this Prayer of Jabez nonsense. Choosing the Kingdom way won't necessarily make the cancer go away, or mend the broken marriage, or make the hopeful book turn into a bestseller. But it will take us in directions that we cannot ask or imagine.

Maggie (let back in) is now sleeping in the wicker chair, her round brindled sides rising and falling peacefully. Max is doing his Yule Log imitation in the rocking chair. Jenny sits next to me, intently studying my knitting, which she thinks of as a spectator sport with optional audience participation. All's peaceful--for a while, until Maggie's had her nap and is ready for trouble again. You can't blame her, though. It's the tortoiseshell temperament. She just does what comes naturally.

Copyright © 2002 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 05 Jan 2002
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