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Catnap: An Invitation to Stop

    My parents loved cats. You should have seen them in their heyday, the house a colony of fur and the furniture like so many lint brushes, thickly thatched with cat hair. And, of course, the cats themselves, cats everywhere: sassy, sauntering, shedding, mewling, purring, hissing, lounging, lunging. The sight of some wiry poodle or jowly hound made their backs arch and quill with hackles, their tails go ramrod straight and bristle out like chimney brooms. The sight of a bird pecking seed awakened in them ancient bloodthirst, quickened near-dormant instincts, and suddenly that drowsy, half-oblivious cat was crouched low, eyes as sharp as sickles, all stealth and appetite.

    My parents had Siamese, devious and haughty and aloof, their coats glistening as smooth as a baby seal's. They had Himalayans, foolish and dumbfounded and clumsy, their hair disheveled and shocked-out like Einstein's. They had sleek, charming tabbies; languid and sullen Persians; surly, bony whatchamacallits. They had Pooh Bear, a hapless, witless furball and a coward of legendary proportions. That cat suffered warlike trauma from the taunting--I'm not making this up--of the neighborhood toms. Many nights Pooh Bear woke us all with his desperate caterwauling, treed again by the neighborhood bullies--a gang of scrawny and not-too-bright felines whose power to create terror clearly exceeded their power to deliver on it. But their bluff worked on our cat. Each encounter made Pooh a bit more skittish, easily spooked by thunderclap or wind gust.

    A low point in my childhood was the day Pooh Bear came home with his whiskers sheared to stubs. How this happened I'll never know. But because I didn't like the cat--I thought him timid and spoiled--I was blamed. To this day, my family still accuses me of cutting his whiskers, and the only thing that's ever kept me from mounting a more vigorous self-defense is that, though I never touched him, I'd thought of worse things I might do to him, and that's its own kind of fault.

    I ended up a dog lover.

    But I remember with affection one thing about all those cats. Despite their widely varied personalities--as different as people, as the people you work with or live with--they had one thing in common: they all liked to sleep in the patches of sunlight that fell, bright and jut-angled, through our front window in the late afternoon of a winter's day. Where we lived the winters were impossibly cold. You grew afraid that things--houses, cars, body parts, the ground itself--might break from sheer brittleness, break into a million glassy splinters. There were weeks on end when to send your cat outside was a sure death sentence, an act of cruelty so dastardly even the hard of heart would stay their hands from committing it.

    I wouldn't even send Pooh Bear out into that.

    So we kept them in and made little boxes mounded with cat litter for them to do their business, fed them more food in a day than they could burn up in a week, and watched them grow waddling fat.

    And we watched them sleep. As the afternoon pushed headlong into night, the sun, clipping swift across an icy sky, tipped westward and thrust its fingers into our living room. Then the cats emerged from wherever else they had been in the house to curl up or sprawl out in the warm pools of light that scattered across furniture and floor. They lay in utter contentment, with almost boneless stillness, spread out like so many jugs and basins placed under prairie sky to catch rainwater after drought. The impression I got was that those cats were emptying themselves and filling themselves all at once. It was not a long sleep. It was a catnap. This was winter, remember, and we lived at the edge of the earth, where night swallowed day quick and whole. But in that brief spell, that sunlight was oasis, heavenboon, pure grace.

    That image comes to mind when I think of Sabbath: a patch of sunlight falling through a window on a winter's day. It's a small yet ample chunk of space, a narrow yet full segment of time. In it, you can lie down and rest. From it, you can rise up and go--stronger, lighter, ready to work again with vigor and a clear mind. It is room enough, time enough, in which to relinquish all encumbrances, to act as though their existence has nothing whatsoever to do with your own. It is an invitation, at one and the same time, to empty yourself and fill yourself.

    � Mark Buchanan
    Used by permission. Adapted from The Rest of God, Restoring your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Copyright 2006)

    Mark Buchanan lives on Vancouver Island, Canada, with his wife, Cheryl, and their three children, Adam, Sarah, and Nicola. He is a pastor and the author of three other books, Your God is Too Safe, Things Unseen, and The Holy Wild. Some days he is restful or playful, without shame