As the story goes, there was once an old man who was extremely devout. Every morning he began his day spending considerable time kneeling beside his bed, praying fervently. He had a slight problem, however, because his cat did what cats tend to do to the masters, rubbing up against him affectionately, which disturbed the man’s prayers. In order to avoid this distraction to his spiritual life, the old man found a practical solution. Each morning, before he said his prayers, he tied the cat to the bedpost. This solved the problem, and both man and cat were happy.

The man had a daughter. She was also a devout believer, but didn’t have the time her father had for spiritual disciplines. Her prayer time was considerably shorter, but like her father, she followed the family tradition. Each morning she tied her cat to the bedpost and knelt for a brief prayer.

With time, the daughter had a son. The young man lived in a more modern, fast-paced world. Although technology had made many of the daily chores easier, life had become infinitely more complex, and there never seemed to be enough time for anything. The young man never went anywhere without his mobile phone, his Blackberry, and whatever other gizmos could keep him organized. He measured his time in the smallest of increments, lest he waste a precious moment.

The young man did not have time for religious activities, usually finding them irrelevant to the “real” world. However, tradition was important to him as a way to honor the past. And so it was that, every morning after he arose from sleep, he tied the cat to the bedpost.

If that story is not meaningful to you – if it leaves you confused, read it again. Then you can read on.

Now that you “get it,” you realize that it’s a story about outward forms versus inward reality. It is a short story about a lot of things, but especially the spiritual life. As an observer of life, I have noticed that there is something deeply human about the tendency to strip the inward meaning from outward forms, so that what one generation finds profoundly meaningful, another reduces to habitual rituals.

I suppose that means that each generation must discover the deeper messages of faith for itself. If we fail to do that, we are left “doing what we’ve always done,” but with no passion, no real meaning. A friend of min expresses it in a riddle:

Question: How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Change?

We may not pray anymore. But, by golly, we always tie that cat to the bedpost!

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