God, Please Pass Along This Message to My Pet | Sojourners

God, Please Pass Along This Message to My Pet

Lessons in communicating with your cat via the Holy Spirit. 
The cartoon shows an orange cat and a blonde girl facing each other, sharing a speech bubble with a heart in it. But the speech bubble is torn, to signify that they can't communicate with traditional language.
Illustration by Melanie Lambrick 

AS A KID, I had a fraught relationship with my cat, Buddy. I know what you’re thinking: “Buddy?? What a basic name.” Well, I couldn’t agree more. I was 5 when we got him, and unfortunately, I was not trusted with the responsibility of choosing a name. To placate me, my parents told me I could come up with the middle name and the last name of the new cat (I don’t know why Buddy didn’t take on our family’s surname — “Buddy Barnett” has a nice ring to it). I christened him “Buddy Bear Donkey.”

Maybe that’s why Buddy hated me. His disdain for me was different from most cats’ aversion to small children. He didn’t run from me or hide beneath couches, both conventional and understandable responses to overzealous hugs. No, Buddy didn’t seek avoidance; he pursued revenge. The orange tabby cat sought me out when I was weakest: at 5 a.m., in my deepest slumber. He would climb on my bed, dip his deceptively cute head under the covers, and bite (not nibble!) my toes.

In the morning, I would find him so that we could make up. Hug it out. Ask him, “What had I done to deserve this?” But I couldn’t get through. I even watched The Aristocats, hoping I could learn something about Buddy. Perhaps, like the Duchess and her kittens, Buddy had a love of the piano. I played him my best rendition of “Hot Cross Buns.” (In retrospect, he might’ve been hoping for a more refined tune. Perhaps an arpeggio or some coffeehouse Norah Jones).

Nothing worked. We simply did not understand each other. So, I did what my parents told me to do in times of desperation and sadness: I prayed. I had learned in children’s church about that time the Holy Spirit helped everyone speak in the same language. Could God help me speak Buddy’s language? “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (Acts 2:3) — this was good news; I would be okay with Buddy just licking my toes. The passage continues: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages ... each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” It’s clear that the Holy Spirit knew a ton of languages. Perhaps she spoke Meow. So, I passed messages to God, hoping the Spirit could translate. Tell Buddy Bear Donkey that I think he’s cute. Ask Buddy not to bite my toes. Tell Buddy I think we could be pals.

It is unclear if God ever passed along the messages. Buddy eventually stopped biting my toes, but only because I started wearing socks. Is it silly to give God credit for that idea? I don’t know. Back then, I hoped that Buddy and I, filled with the Holy Spirit, would love each other like family. In the end, we learned to love each other like enemies (Luke 6:27-28): We shared a home. The violence stopped.

Now, at 30, I have a dog named Ash. His full name is “Ash Kangaroo Whale.” Just kidding. It’s “Ash Barnett.” He’s taught me a lot about a different sort of love. When I’m feeling anxious, he burrows under the covers and becomes the perfect tiny snuggle spoon. When I return from a two-week vacation, he greets me with squeals and licks and laps around the room — no questions asked. That’s gotta be agape love, right? This story will publish right around Ash’s third birthday. So, God, if you speak Woof, could you pass along this message? Thank you, Mr. Ash, for loving me through those dark days. Thank you for treating every homecoming like Christmas morning. Thank you for not making me wear socks to sleep. Happy birthday, buddy.

The cover shows an illustration of the manger scene, with everyone asleep. including the animals
This appears in the December 2023 issue of Sojourners