27 Mar How to Write a Sermon (with the help of Mani)
We own a cat, whose name is Mani. He used to belong to our daughter, but when she left for college, Mani stayed behind. He is the third “person” in our home. He has his own distinct personality, and enjoys the run of the “estate”, including the Rectory and gardens.
He is eight years old and has gray and white coloring. At times he is like a dog, keeping guard. He will walk with us if we go out, only to separate and then re-appear unexpectedly later. He is not a scaredy cat. I saw him once stare down a fox. Mani’s tail was fluffed to twice its size, and he and the fox squared off at a distance of twenty feet, before the fox eventually backed down and slunk away.
Mani proves the old adage that, whereas dogs have owners, cats have staff. I sometimes think that our primary purpose in life is to feed him and give him the occasional treat, a.k.a. Party Time (those words we sometimes abbreviate to P.T., in case he overhears us). He has set feeding times, however he varies these at will. I still don’t know how he gets away it, but he will cry out to us at 5 am, when he knows full well his normal feeding time is 7 am. His cry is the most woeful and abject sound known to man. It is a piercing howl of existential angst, carefully designed, I believe, to elicit the maximum level of guilt feelings in his owners.
He shows his gratitude by bringing us occasional gifts: a dead vole, several live birds and mice – even half a baby rabbit’s body (ugh!). He is an adept hunter and a ruthless killer. He also likes to play with his prey, which we often rescue and release when he isn’t looking.
He is the cleanest cat I have ever known. His coat is immaculate and he takes great pride in his appearance. He is also the least affectionate cat in history. He hates being petted, and saves his affection – rubbing against our legs – for meal times. He sleeps alone in the guest room, which in his eyes is the main bedroom, whereas my wife and I sleep in the staff quarters.
I said that Mani isn’t very affectionate, but there are rare occasions when he is. For me, it’s usually when I am working at my desk – suddenly he will jump up and walk on the computer keyboard. I think he does this deliberately, to annoy me. Anyway, he may then decide to sit on my lap and go to sleep. This happens so rarely that when it does, it is a major event. It means, however, that I cannot move for the entire time he is there, because it may not happen again for another couple of months.
The most recent time was last week, when I was writing the sermon for Sunday. Mani curled up and went to sleep in my lap. The only way this could happen was if my left arm and hand were in a position to brace him and stop him from falling off. That meant I had only the use of my right hand to continue typing the sermon, which I did, one finger and one letter at a time.
Not surprisingly, this had the effect of slowing down my thought processes. But it didn’t matter, because there was something comforting about the sleeping cat on my lap, which felt like a royal visitation. The sermon became more concise, and each word was carefully weighed before being typed. It was like a revelation, that here was a new way of writing, thanks to the cat curled up blissfully asleep before me.
At dinner time, I woke Mani up and the two of us headed for the kitchen, where I gave him some P.T. I had managed to finish off the sermon and it was a decent first draft. I usually say that writing sermons is a work of collaboration between the writer and the Holy Spirit, although on this occasion I am also prepared to give credit to Mani, our cat.
With every blessing,