Where do Cats Go?: Reflections on Death Post Patriarchal Christianity by Sara Frykenberg
The reason I am speaking about death today is two-fold. First, I have been somewhat preoccupied with the concept of death since entering a new decade of my life. I no longer believe in the evangelical vision of heaven I learned about in my youth; but as an uncomfortable “un”-Christian, I also have no satisfactory vision to replace it. Or rather, there are many visions I find appealing, but none that I “believe in,” as I had believed in heaven. My family is getting older, my parents have been sick in the last few years, and I often feel that I have more to lose now than I used to.
My second reason for considering death today is that last Wednesday, Mimi, our family cat of 24 years—yes, 24—passed away. After spending all nine of her lives living, Mimi could no longer eat and was suffering. My mother had her put down after we all said goodbye; we held a funeral for her and buried her among the lilies in our yard, her home.
My sisters and myself were very, very saddened by Mimi’s passing; but my mother took it hardest of all. Mimi had been her companion, her friend, her lap warmer, her snuggle buddy, her alarm clock and, we often joked, her favorite child for over two decades. I wanted to comfort my mother; but my protest that it didn’t matter what the (her) Church said, Mimi was with the God/dess, was maybe, not very helpful. It perhaps, only reminded her that in her view, I too am not going to heaven.
I remember sitting in church, as a child being told that animals did not have souls and that there was no “kitty heaven.” That was perhaps, one of the first times in my life that I thought, “that’s just ridiculous,” in a church. Not just ridiculous, but mean and cruel even. “What,” I thought, “is the point in saying such a thing?” As an adult, I know that such doctrines reinforce the idea that “mankind” has “dominion” over the Earth: or power-over it. This type of theology also often suggests that humans are somehow separate from the Earth, and so, superior to our animal and plant companions. I can’t deny that I value human life over that of other beings on our planet. However, I also recognize that interconnection is essential for our existence and that all creatures are valuable, as a part of God/dess or her creation. Tying our particular manifestation of creatureliness uniquely to soul while excluding other creatures not only undermines their value and our respect for our home, it also reinforces an ethic of disregard, disconnection and eco-neglect.
Our cat knew love very well; which to me, is to know God/dess, howbeit, in her own feline nature. So if she is not in heaven, and I am not going to heaven, where do we go? I’ll admit, this question sometimes scares me; AND, that the question scares me, scares me even more. When I practiced evangelical Christianity and conversion oriented apologetics in my youth, I was taught that if someone was fearing death, or thinking a lot about it, this was our opportunity to try and help them to accept Jesus as their personal savior. The fear of death was taught as a conversion opportunity—it was a sign of those who were “lost.”
Sometimes I catch myself assessing myself in terms of patriarchal Christianity’s standards for the “heaven bound.” If I think of a scriptural passage as ridiculous or wrong, I am immediately reminded of the scripture that says those who don’t know God won’t be able to understand the scripture. The worst part is, I can’t even remember where this verse is or its context. I only know that I end up feeling like the verse is talking about me: it’s telling me that I am “lost.”
I recognize that these moments of sudden self-condemnation are the reverberations of an abusive relationship to deity in a life that now works to counter this force. We still live-with abuse, even when we are not creating or participating in it. Therefore, I affirm this: just because I am not “heaven bound,” does not mean that I am going to hell.
I like the idea from Process theo/alogy that a part of us lives on in the consciousness of God/dess. Maybe this means we get to glimpse all that she sees and experience creation on a new level. It also scares me a bit too—do we lose ourselves in the complex consciousness of God/dess? This reminds me of the anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion. Characters in this series lose their “AT fields” (their self-other separation) through an “Instrumentality Project.” But when all of creation finally shares consciousness, the character Ikari Shinji (translates: refuses to believe) struggles with self-recognition. Given the choice, he decides to reinstate “AT fields,” despite the pain of separation, opting to struggle to love in our human reality—probably, because it is something he can understand.
I also like an idea that comes from my love of Sci-Fi. Human beings, as depicted by the series Stargate SG-1, can evolve and “ascend” to a new plane of existence, with new challenges and responsibilities… but in the series, we have not learned to do this yet, even though our ancestors have already ascended.
But when I think of Mimi and her soul, I cannot help but think of how some Kundalini yogi’s describe reincarnation—but not because her life’s incarnation as a cat was somehow less or simply a jumping point for a more advanced incarnation. I can’t help but think of Mimi in the blue ethers because in this yogic tradition, all lives have a soul that’s on a journey. If she is in the blue ethers, then I am still journeying with her, as her big and beautiful soul decides what it wants and needs to learn next.
I do not know where cats go; but looking past retributive and un-relational patriarchal understandings, I choose to consider those meditations on death that account for the energy and life that remains when creatures pass on.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.