Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cats and Monkeys

Something I discovered on Iona in the Abbey Church were images of a cat and a monkey, either side of a window.

From what I learned about these carvings, they represent the contemplative life and the active life. The cat is the contemplative; the monkey the active.

Through the week, I enjoyed playing with that idea. I would imagine most people regard contemplation as being all but asleep with little or nothing inside your mind.

But a cat is such a great challenge to that stereotype. Cats relax and doze, but when they do, they are always ready for action, poised but not tense, alert but not stressed, and the stillness is part of their preparation for action. If we could find that sort of stillness, how much more fulfilled might we be?

And the monkey for the active life is great. Monkeys can be cheeky, funny, playful, yet surprisingly tenacious and determined to obtain whatever it is they want. What a brilliant image for the active side of life. If only we could take life and ourselves a bit less seriously, I wonder how much healthier we might be.


Matthew McMurray said...

Maybe you should write a hymn about a cat and a monkey to the tune of "I heard the voice of Jesus say". (Sorry, that is unfair, and I don't mean it. I was just exploiting a stereotype.) The animal imagery is quite interesting. I think that the transitions between contemplation and activity must be very well managed. I find that the contemplation transforms the attitude with which I turn to activity or busyness, particularly when it comes to serving people or doing the more unpleasant things in life.

I have been getting into contemplation recently. Every Tuesday we have an hour of silent prayer in chapel before Evening Prayer. There is something about becoming more in tune with the world around you, and letting go of all the stress for an hour. In my experience, the contemplation transforms the Office which follows the contemplation.

Mike Peatman said...

Vaughan-Williams adaptation of a folk tune. An excellent option. Surely Lord of the Dance is more monkey-like!

You'd like our Monday night GodSpace that Debbie & Sue lead. We're all contemplatives up here, you know (with all the poise of cats!)

Matthew McMurray said...

A shaker tune? Well, they were certainly into simplicity weren't they? That seems to resonate with my understanding, or lack thereof, of the Iona Community. How about this to start with (to the Shaker Tune)? "I sat like the cat that was on the mat".

There is something so profound about being in a group of people in contemplation that binds you in such a deep way. It is the kind of Ecumenism I can handle. As I am sure you can imagine, I struggle much beyond that, particularly when it comes to Eucharistic Communion, which brings me sadness.

Mike Peatman said...

Yes - GodSpace is remarkably ecumenical in the best sense of the word. Even had someone who described himself as Buddhist turn up and just be silent with us. Think he has Christian background, so he seems to be seeking.

All good.

Back to songs. How about the Archers' theme?

A contemplating snoozing cat
Underneath the table...

Matthew McMurray said...

...sought the Lord of you and me,
of peace and harmony.
A monkey came
and built a church
in which to find the Lord.
Then the monkey and the cat
danced for evermore.

How's that? Verse 1 ready for publication?

Mike Peatman said...


TV / Radio theme worship. It's a new genre