Painting Cats in Clothes Inspired by Literature

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Confessions of a Crazy Cat Artist: Part 1

cat dressed for communion with Jesus portrait

My cat Flicker all dressed for Communion ... (circa 1991)

I’ve been involved with every Protestant religion known to man or God at some point, and dabbled in a few earth-based religions as well, before deciding that the Universe and I would never agree. Not that my opinion holds much weight in the face of a Black Hole.

But for some reason, Catholicism has escaped me. Or rather, I’ve never set foot inside a Catholic church except to attend my cousin’s high school graduation.
(She went to one of those all-girls’ schools – St. Something-or-other – operated by nuns)

That isn’t to say that I haven’t done some homework on the subject however, especially with my love of ancient history and British literature. I also seemed to gravitate towards Catholic friends, unconsciously, and even married one. Although he was one of those wayward-types who doesn’t attend mass anymore.
But the mysteries and protocols surrounding their practice provide me with hours of curiosity…
And too many questions.

Take confessionals, for example. Simply put, you step into a phonebooth-style closet and discuss your sins with the priest behind the curtain, who as God’s appointed earthly emissary has been given the holy power of absolution… so he forgives you, and then requires that you repent with x-amount of prayers performed on a beaded necklace.   (My mother gave me a rosary as a child, but never taught me to use it).

What would happen if I suddenly decided to confess… would I be bound to recall every sin I’d committed in the last 25 years?  I’m almost 31 years old, but apparently the first 5 years don’t count against me. ;)
….Or is the age of reason seven years?   (I’m afraid to Google it and become sidetracked for 3 hours reading articles on Thomas Paine)

Lord, there have been so many regrets and bad decisions made in the last 10 years alone… it would be a very daunting task indeed to list them all, and just imagine, I’d probably be praying on beads for the next 30 years.

When I was studying Latin, I got a kick out of watching the Catholic TV channel. It was a fun challenge to keep pace with the sermons, and every time I could successfully translate phrases like “tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis”   I would squeal with excitement.
I imagined the priest and I had our own secret language.

[Lord, the spell-check had serious issues with that phrase! Perhaps I should program my Latin dictionary into WordPress.  Or is there a widget?]

But I also remember watching the nuns reciting their “Hail Marys” – over and over and over and over – and how truly forlorn and tired they appeared.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the Once-Virgin Mary thought about all these depressing rituals… I mean, if you’re going to say “Blessed art thou amongst women!” you could try to sound joyful about it, or the point is being lost.
Isn’t it?

A former co-worker of mine was sitting in the lunch room, reading an inspirational book written for Catholics… although it’s been 10 years and I can’t remember its title or author (too many sins clogging my mind), she left it lying on the table where it sat until she left, and then I opened it to the page she’d bookmarked.

It was discussing the damnation of Protestants having forsaken “The True Religion”… now there is a phrase that would send icy chills down the spine of many Dark Age prisoners. People were beheaded for simply refusing to accept The True Religion, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
If their souls were damned, why not at least let them live until a ripe old age before sentencing them to burn in Hell?
One of the biggest complaints against the Church is why everyone is so Hell-bent on damning everybody else.
You’re a Methodist, therefore you’re going to Hell.
You Mormons and Lutherans will burn too.

We are all reading the same Scriptures, except for those “lost” passages that might explain everything, and yet there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of groups professing wildly different interpretations. But we’re willing to condemn and kill people to maintain that we are right. Right?

I wonder what cats think about religion? See, cats supposedly do not have souls at all, and therefore do not have to worry about Hell and confessing mortal sins.
It is accepted that animals don’t even commit sins… although we cat owners would beg to differ.
Spitefulness is a sin, is it not? And my cats will puke in my shoe just to spite me.

Grace Christian church day school in Bowie Maryland

My kindergarten class at Grace Baptist School (1985)

I’ve been arguing the point of animism (animals having souls) since childhood, and the clergy have been adamant against the idea. Although if you talk with ghost hunters, they’ll admit to running across animal spirits occasionally. Hmmm.
One of the reasons I studied paganism for awhile, was because it seems implausible to think that human beings are the only creatures worthy of possessing a soul. Every living thing shares energy that cannot be destroyed. If you’re tempted to quote Genesis 1:26-28, don’t bother…

In fact, I just read the first two chapters of Genesis last week, when Mia grabbed a Bible off the shelf under the assumption it was a bedtime story. Fortunately, she drifted off to sleep before I reached Chapter 4, where Cain bludgeoned his brother to death with a rock. I didn’t want to give her any nightmares… or any ideas. ;)

There are very few Old Testament stories appropriate for children, including Noah’s Art, which is a popular nursery theme…. WHY?! For Heaven’s sake… people and animals drowned due to God’s rage, but their bodies aren’t painted floating in the pastel waters underneath the pretty rainbow.

(Daniel and the Lion’s Den, David and Goliath, Shadrach and the Furnace… they are gruesome and violent enough for Hollywood to prey upon for plotlines)

But if animals do have souls, did Jesus die for them as well?
If we could translate Scripture into a language understood by our furred friends, would they accept their salvation?

For awhile now, I’ve envisioned doing a series of paintings surrounding Biblical stories recreated with cats. Even Joe read my mind recently, and suggested I paint the Birth of Christ – depicting the holy family as a mother cat with her litter.  Which one would be Jesus?  It might confuse the wise men, eh?
Perhaps all the kittens were saviours…. now that would be an interesting twist.

My grandmother was a huge proponent of Christmas celebrations.  Every year, the extended family would travel hundreds of miles to our Bowie home for the holidays.   She was the glue that held everyone together – the reason for our season – and the feasts and parties were such a large part of my childhood that one wonders why I shun them now.
I guess my holiday phobias stem partly from the degeneration of our family after her passing.
Anyway…

December was a flurry of UPS packages arriving daily and trunks of decorations migrating down from the attic. She was an avid collector of knickknacks, and for Christmas, her enormous collection of Nativity scenes would appear on bookcases, end tables, windowsills, and inside glass hutches.

One year, I sculpted her a gift from oven-baked clay – a feline Nativity, and she praised its creativity and placed it alongside the others, without any mention of the potential blasphemy of portraying Jesus and family as cats.

Blasphemy.

There are so many paintings that I’d love to create, but that word scares me into pushing them aside.
But why?

I’m not interested in shock-value… it’s never been my intention to create disturbing or derogatory artwork. Honestly, I’m not trying to put down anyone’s faith.

Looking back, I see that sculpture as my way of reaching out to God to make peace.   Cats and Christianity have been themes in my art for some time … Medieval Priest Cat and Church Choir Cats are two recent examples … because it reflects the conflicted position I find myself in.

Reject the religion of my childhood, or those beliefs which have always felt honest to me. And who would I be, if not part cat in a human skin?

Child playing with cat

Flicker and I caught playing with cat-toys...

Cats are fascinating because they live outside our rules and don’t abide by religious dogma (hehe, and why should they? It’s merely Dog-ma after all)… yet they seem to be fully in tune with their purpose and what life is all about. Cats attend to their basic needs, for shelter, food, procreation, and company.
They provide for their young, defend their homes, and seek out relationships with humans and other animals.

I don’t see them consulting Dead Sea Scrolls, constructing marble temples, or embarking on Holy Crusades.
They don’t question which Truth you believe. They don’t even ask you to confess.

I wonder, if you did manage to drag a cat into the booth, and he admitted that the stinky pile of poop behind the sofa was his… (and those paw prints in the pumpkin pie), would the penitence be divided by seven to accommodate his shorter lifespan?

Otherwise he might be praying on rosaries for the next 2.5 lives.

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