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I would like the record to state that I am obsessed with the idea of a church dog, and I am very fond of Miss Clara Bo.

But someone’s gotta rep the cats on the Reformed Journal. So. Here goes.

I’m going to take David’s word that cats aren’t mentioned in Scripture, apart from lions and tigers (and bears, oh my!)

But perhaps we might take a philosophical approach, which will then lead to a theological understanding of the gift that is the domestic house cat.

Such an approach is taken by professor and writer John Gray, in Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life. Exploring the nature of cats and the writings of philosophers (many of whom had cats), Gray “discovers in cats a way of living that is unburdened by anxiety and self-consciousness, and shows how they embody the answers to the big questions of love and attachment, mortality, morality, and the Self” (from the front cover flap, as shown here):

Okay, that’s a pretty big claim. Possibly overreaching. I think cats are amazing, but also, you know, just cats.

But maybe there are some nuggets of truth here.

Let’s consider the idea of happiness.

Cats are generally happy creatures. They may not exude joy and delight at all times, but they are content with their lot. You can disrupt their happiness by changing their food (or being late in dishing out said food) or by moving them across state. But on the whole, day in and day out, cats are happy. They sleep, they eat, they get their zoomies out just as you’re trying to fall asleep, they knock pens and phones off the coffee table, they plant themselves squarely on the newspaper you’re reading, they crawl into your lap and make themselves at home. This is life, and it’s enough for them.

Humans, on the other hand, have a much more complicated relationship with happiness. Gray suggests that humans think of happiness as a project – a pursuit, says the movie – and thus we believe this project will bring fulfilment at some future time. Only time passes us by and we never achieve this fulfilment, and so anxiety and restlessness creep into our lives. We turn to diversions, projects, therapies, and quests, all to distract us from the fact that what we think we should be, we are not. And we wonder – am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I where I should be? Will I be happy somewhere else, doing something else? Will I find fulfillment then?

A friend asked me last week what I hope for in this new year. “To feel settled,” I told her. To feel centered and rooted, confident that I’m where I’m supposed to be. After a year of change that didn’t pan out the way I thought, I wonder, “What’s next? What should I be doing? Where should I be doing it?”

A few days later, I was seeking such centeredness by doing yoga in my living room, and it struck me: this was exactly the same conversation I had been having with my spiritual director during my final year in Grand Haven. I thought, then, that a new place, a new situation, would answer those questions, would solve the longing I had in my heart, would sate my restlessness. But here I am, still restless, still wondering, still searching for that future reality that will bring contentment.

Finley showing off table top position. He never did quite figure out cat pose.

David quoted lines from the poem by Christopher Smart about his cat, Jeoffrey. A contemporary and acquaintance of Smart, Samuel Johnson (who had a black cat named Hodge), scoffed at the belief that dwelling on the best path in life, on some future situation that will bring fulfillment, would bring happiness. He wrote to his friend James Boswell:

“Life is not long, and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation how it shall be spent; deliberation, which those who begin it by prudence, and continue it with subtilty, must, after long expence of thought, conclude by chance. To prefer one future mode of life to another, upon just reasons, requires faculties which it has not pleased our Creator to give us” (Gray, p. 39).

Humans, Johnson believed, are deeply restless people, constantly seeking, rarely content. But such seeking is not the cure for restlessness. Such future planning and hoping does not bring contentedness.

Contentedness brings contentedness. The belief that this life, right now, is enough.

For the cat, this is so because they need no more than a soft surface upon which to curl up.

For humans, we curl up and place ourselves in nothing less than the hands of God.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Life is, of course, more complicated for a human than a cat. There are decisions to make, responsibilities to shoulder, gifts to use, and unique longings that steer us along unique paths.

But perhaps, in the midst of all of that, we can look to the cat as our teacher and guide, showing us what it is to be content, in this moment, and in the moments to come. For in the arms of God, we are safe, we are held, and we are loved. And that is enough.

*This post brought to you by the 1,547 pictures of my cats on my phone.

Laura de Jong

Laura de Jong is the Pastor of Preaching and Worship at Community Christian Reformed Church in Kitchener, Ontario


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I love the Boswell quotation. This dog and cat thing in the RJ: I love dogs, I love Hilde-dog in particular, but I’ve never been a cat lover. Except one cat, a stray that my son brought home, which cat decided that I should love him. This cat imposed himself on me in such an attentive and uncanny way that I ended up loving this cat more than any other animal we’d ever had. He would enter the church during committee meetings and lie down in the middle of the table. He would climb up on my chest and gently pet my cheek. I grieved him when he died. Your bright writing is bringing out lots in all of us, I imagine. We do need to love animals, and be loved by them, to be the full human beings that God created us to be.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    The first two additions to our family (Jen and me) were two cats. They were in a sense our first children. We loved them. They loved us, as much as we understood that to be true. It was one of our hardest days when our next children (Ethan and Grace) wandered in and found Oliver dead, and then the loneliness of our last cat when his brother died. I would advocate for our next children (two rats-Sandy and Zoe) as many people do not understand rats. It was odd and impressive to watch (carefully) the supervised interaction between our two cats and our two rats. It was odd but somehow fascinating to cook dinner with a rat on my shoulder (don’t question it, I know your concerns). We lost them too and that was hard. Finally, our youngest is a dog. Jax is a bundle of energy that would have fit better when we were younger, but we persevere (probably an overstatement). He will keep us from an “empty nest” when Grace takes off for college later this fall. I wonder about how bored he is. We do our best. This article helps me consider that maybe he is more content than I worry about. At any rate, a list of our children. Each has taught us something to consider, and Daniel is right I think. Loving an animal, drawing them into our home and family, offers us a great deal of knowledge and understanding (admittedly a different kind). It seems the height of hubris to imagine that another part of creation has nothing to teach us about being a creature of God’s handiwork (Consider the ant you sluggard!)
    Thanks Laura and Tom and David and all those commenters with your beloved family members.

  • Dawn Muller says:

    I never fancied myself to be a cat person, having always “owned” dogs. I had to put my last dog, Molly, down in 2017. The pandemic found me too often alone, my kids having outgrown the nest. Two of them had adopted cats, and convinced me to consider it. I now find myself “owned” by Quarantine Quincy Jones, brother to Bustopher Jones, and Junie B. Jones. Best decision ever!

  • David Hoekema says:

    Clara Bo is grateful for the shout-out. Unlike others who find fame suddenly thrust upon them, however, she seems completely unimpressed by this development. But she requires no instruction from cats on how to live a happy and contented life. (A dog selecting a cat as spiritual director? That’s an interesting scenario.)

    Let me note, contra Ms. De Jong and Mr. Johnson, that Clara does engage in processes of thoughtful deliberation. True, she may not be trainable to a litterbox, but she requires that any human companion wait patiently while she sniffs the ground and investigates the terrain to find just the right place to do her business. To do this without careful thought, evidently, would disrupt the (mostly olfactory) order of Creation.

    One is tempted to extend these thoughts by reflecting on theological lessons in the behavior of one’s young son’s pet watersnake, whose wellbeing required a live goldfish every day or two — but who would never dispatch them while anyone was watching. With a change of just one letter, he was emulating the tax collector in the parable: he was preying in secret. But one knows better than to yield to this temptation.

  • Susan says:

    I recently read that Dogs have owners, Cats have staff.
    I have lived with many cats and find them creatures of comfort. I love dogs also – I just love having a pet that wants to be with me.
    Thanks for this shout-out to cats!

  • Wayne Joosse says:

    The difference between dogs and cats:

    Dogs: This big person feeds me, pets me, and meets my needs. He must be God.

    Cats: This big person feeds me, pets me, and meets my needs. I must be God.

  • Rosemary Geertsma says:

    “The belief that this life, right now, is enough.”
    Amen to more and more of that.

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