Auguste Renoir, Woman with a Cat, French, 1841 - 1919, c. 1875, oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin E. Levy

The Peaceable Kingdom

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.
[Isaiah 11:6-9]

Auguste Renoir, Woman with a Cat, French, 1841 - 1919, c. 1875, oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin E. Levy

Auguste Renoir, Woman with a Cat, c. 1875.

I have a very large cat who loves to curl up in my lap whenever he finds me sitting down. Whether I sit for two minutes on the floor to put on socks before a bike ride or for an entire evening to do paperwork at my desk, he instantly appears and jumps into my lap. No laptop computer or laundry-folding allowed.  All obstacles are forced out of the way – nothing belongs in my lap but him! I sometimes say that he is a “lap-seeking cat” with a guidance system that would be the envy of any Department of Defense engineer.

I laugh sometimes at my own silliness in using the language of “heat-seeking missiles” to describe my “lap-seeking cat.” He is usually quite peaceful after finding the lap he so eagerly hunted, and he will curl up to sleep for as long as I’m willing to sit. Yet, it does not seem out of character as a description of this stalking, hunting, but still peaceful creature. We draw our language from the world of the creature, including the human creature, and it is a language of both power and peace, expressing all that we desire but cannot yet bring to be.

We desire the peaceable kingdom that Isaiah portrays in today’s reading. A kingdom where predators and prey live safely together, where appetites are changed such that predators no longer feel the need to hunt their former quarry, and where the world’s most vulnerable beings are safe in even the most threatening places. Since Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, humans have sought the peaceable kingdom, and in today’s reading Isaiah presents vivid imagery of all that we seek. In yesterday’s passage, Isaiah described how a reordering of human relationships would make way for a new governance that, in today’s passage, restores the harmonies of nature. In our modern living, we seem to order the world outside the garden in ways that leave less and less room for peace. It is into this disharmony that we invite a new governance, a new King. From our Christian perspective, we see that promise of a Messiah, a Prince of Peace, here in Isaiah.

Because it’s prophetic, much of Isaiah’s writing is filled with imagery, and that’s always appealed to me. I can picture mountains, oceans, wolves, calves, leopards, lions, and little children, and so I can picture the visions and hopes that Isaiah spoke to the Israelites, and I can see in them my hopes and dreams for the world today. In the conflict resolution work that I do, a peaceable kingdom often seems far away. Still, I pray that natural enemies – in their many forms and places of existence – will experience God’s transformative love and one day live together in harmony on God’s holy mountain.

Perhaps then, this large black cat sitting in my lap will have another favorite spot, lying on a tree branch beside the nest of the mockingbird that taunts him every morning from the windowsill….


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