Notes From Home: Four Souls

Trudy Wischemann

If you’re looking to read something newsy or shiny bright, you might want to skip on to other column inches in this paper. All I have to write about this week is kittens.

It’s not as if nothing else has happened. The world keeps turning, the current U.S. administration keeps trying to regain humane ground lost, abandoned and trashed in the last one, while dictators around the world keep upping the ante on peace. No, there’s plenty to think about, by golly. But my early Easter basket of kittens has kept me hog-tied to scheduled bottle-feedings, cleanings-up, and observations on the miracle of Creation. I think I’ll write about that instead.

“Why would you do this to yourself?” some inane, outside Judge-mental voice asks occasionally as I scrub out tiny plastic baby bottles. Why give up weeks of my life feeding abandoned kittens when there are too many cats in the world already? As a man I loved once said in response to a similar cry from my lips, because they need feeding.

The kittens tell me this themselves, of course, four or five times a day. Everything else takes a back seat, and I have learned again the miracle of diffuse focus. Some planning makes the day go better, but some things can be handled only by responding to the instant, the singular minute. I have a much greater appreciation for the strengths and conditions of motherhood at this moment, especially mothers with quadrupled tasks due to the pandemic. Motherhood at the border. Motherhood in war zones. How you keep your focus on feeding and safe, dry places for infants to sleep while bombs fall around your head or while walking a thousand miles fueled by little more than hope – you do that by keeping your focus diffuse.

Another reason for feeding kittens, though, is that it’s my religion. Since I was a small girl, as long as I can remember, I have held the belief that animals are on equal footing with humans, rejecting the concept of “dominion over” taught so long by the Christian church even before I ever heard that teaching. It was part of my rejection of the church during the first half of my adulthood, rejection which ended when I met the Methodist preacher/activist John Pitney. Many of my environmentally-educated friends abandoned the church for the same reason, as well as its historically limited views on who counts as neighbors.

Right before the kittens arrived, I had been revisiting a book recommended to me long ago by Rev. Tom Elson, who served the Presbyterian churches in both Lindsay and Exeter for many years before retiring. It was written by a friend of his, David Hansen, who served rural churches in Montana for years, called A Little Handbook on Having a Soul (1997). I love the first two sentences of the book: “In Montana people heal grief with Jello salads. It’s as if the land tells them what to do: when someone dies, people start cooking.” If I told you all the other things I love in this book, there would be no other column inches to read in this paper.

But the real gift he gave me was from Genesis, and the definition of the Hebrew phrase “nephesh chayyah.” Genesis 2, v. 7 in the King James version reads “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul (nephesh chayyah.). Then Adam goes on to name every living being (also “nephesh chayyah” in the Hebrew text) and later God makes a covenant with Noah and every living being (“nephesh chayyah” again) and every descendant of every nephesh chayyah who survived the flood thanks to the ark. In Hebrew it’s clear, says Hansen: animals have, or are, souls, too. It’s the English translations that have led us astray.

The real reason I’m feeding four abandoned, apparently useless kittens is because I know them as souls. In Christian terms, they are my neighbors. Now the only real challenge is to see if I can respond as well to my two-legged neighbors who may also be in need.

Trudy Wischemann is an animal respecter who writes. You can send her your nephesh chayyah sightings c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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