Monday, July 13, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Gentleness 8


While abba Macarius was praying in his cave in the desert, a hyena suddenly appeared and began to lick his feet and taking him gently by the hem of his tunic, she drew him towards her own cave. He followed her, saying, "I wonder what this animal wants me to do?" When she had led him to her cave, she went in and brought her cubs which had been born blind. He prayed over them and returned them to the hyena with their sight healed. She in turn, by way of thank offering, brought the man the huge skin of a ram and laid it at his feet. He smiled at her as if at a kind person and taking the skin spread it under him.

Some thoughts

I would call this hagiography except for the witness of a neighbor of a friend. The neighbor attempted to befriend a very beautiful, pregnant but feral young cat. She would accept food but would bolt if he came nearer to her than she liked. He never could get near to her. She gave birth in a woodsy area near the house. When her kittens were old enough to be weaned, she brought them to the man and one by one laid them at his feet and darted back into the woods.

What strikes me is that in both anecdotes, the mother is concerned enough for her young that she seeks the aid of a human being. The hyena and the cat are wild animals. But there is something about the spirits of these two men that encourage the mothers to trust them.

Hyenas are unlovely animals with unlovely habits. Cats are delicate and clean and teach their young to be cleans. I am struck by the attitude Macarius demonstrates. One of his fellow creatures sought him out, created by God just as Macarius had been. Macarius treats the hyena as an equal, as fully deserving as any human. Macarius makes no distinction between worthiness or not, all he sees is the needs and to that he responds.


  • At 3:13 PM, Blogger MikeF said…

    What wonderful stories... I knew the abba Macarius one already, but your contemporary parallel is just beautiful - moved me literally to tears!

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Our relations with the animals are far more significant in the life of faith than most of us ever realise.

  • At 7:57 PM, Blogger Gloriamarie Amalfitano said…

    Dear Mike,

    Thank you for your comment. I so completely agree with you about animals and the life of faith. I would swear on a stack of Bibles that my 3 cats pray with me. I say "time for Morning Prayer" or which ever office and they gather around and sit at my feet while I pray the office, read the lessons.

    I have no idea who said animals have no souls... Augustine or Aquinas is what I think. Who ever said it was wrong, IMO

  • At 12:16 AM, Blogger MikeF said…

    I absolutely agree about cats. I had a little cat called Figgy (she died this March, at a great old age) who used to curl around my Office book on the desk, and pray with me like that, never moving or interfering...

    I remember when I first heard about animals "having no souls" I searched Scripture in distress for some adequate basis for the claim. There is none.

    I love the fact that St. Francis addressed the animals as sister and brother... Do you know the beautiful imaginative reconstruction of the Wolf of Gubbio incident in Murray Bodo's The Journey and the Dream?


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