I have this story from Debra K. Farrington from the foreword of her book, All God’s Creatures. “A few years ago one of my cats jumped up on my lap while I was saying morning prayers. After I pushed him away I realized I’d done something quite wrong. ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ were my words, while my actions said: ‘but don’t sit on my lap!’
Now, … I know my cat isn’t Jesus. But I do believe that if God created everything…that I’m just as likely to encounter God’s presence in a cat, dog, or some other animal as I am in a human being.
Centuries ago a frog taught St. Benno the same lesson. This wise bishop was walking in the fields praying,…but a noisy frog kept interrupting him. Finally Benno ordered the frog to be quiet, and the frog ceased his croaking. … As he walked in silence, …Benno began to wonder if God might not find the frog’s song just as, or more, agreeable than Benno’s own, and so he commanded the frog to sing again.
The air was filled with the prayers of the priest and the frog, and God was pleased. …St. Benno’s struggle to let the animals be all that God intended them to be, instead of viewing them as lesser creatures, is still ours today....church historian Roberta Bondi writes, ‘our tradition is also very clear that it isn’t only human beings who reflect who God is. All of creation, every bit of it, expresses God and points us back to God.’” End quote. So, why not include our animals in our spiritual life? They are our friends through thick and thin. They love us when we are mean and grouchy and they love us when we are nice and happy. And, so does God.
Has anyone else watched the PBS series on Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique? I have found it very interesting. Mozambique went through a horrible civil war that came close to destroying this enormous park. 95% of mammals were killed or died. Soldiers killed elephants and sold their ivory for arms and they also killed many animals for their meat. Watching this series has made me even more aware of how we see animals as a commodity, as beings “less than” we are. Fortunately, most of the bird species survived and the crocodiles seem unimpeded in their lives--some are believed to be near 100 years old. The lions are making a slow come back and the elephants are thriving though, they are very wary of humans. It is amazing what conservation and restoration can do in a short period. I kept thinking of St Francis and his love of wild animals as I watched.
My next Franciscan encounter over the last several weeks has been coloring an alphabet animal book. I have contemplated the animals as I color them in fantasy colors. Nothing has to be as it is in real life. It has been fun finding the hidden leaves and gems and plants that the artist included in the pictures. The zebras have hidden letters in their picture. It has been relaxing and fun to sit and color those pix while I watch TV.
I have also been thinking about a trip three years ago to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle wearing street clothes and a priest’s stole to participate in the first ever St. Francis Day Blessing of the animals there. It was the most awesome visit I have ever had to a zoo! I have especially enjoyed remembering that day because I walked around with a friend, Heather Kmitta, and her family celebrated her life and the anniversary of her death a week ago. Heather worked at a cat veterinary clinic. We started at the Savannah viewing area--there were three giraffes, zebras and impalas. As we began our service, the animals moved closer and we were treated to that rare occurrence at the zoo which is seeing all the animals in their habitat rather than finding they have hidden from view. It was as if they knew we were praying for them, for their health, for their relatives who live in the wild and for the environment--that we were apologizing for destroying their homeland and promising to do more to keep the world healthy for them. At several of the habitats, we maintained a time of silence to just BE with the animals. Orangutans and gorillas looked us right in the eye. A grizzly came from way back in the habitat to right up close to look at us and kept coming back to look at us again. He was magnificent! When we saw the arctic fox, we stopped to bless her even though we had not planned to stop there. The docent who joined us at the penguins, told us she had only seen the fox three times including that one.
Wearing funny clothes to the zoo to bless the animals and to be blessed by them and really thinking about those wonderful and beautiful creatures was fun. As we walked together, we humans talked about animals we had known and loved, we talked about the animals we had seen and what we liked about them. Some of us pulled out our phones and showed pictures of pets.
One thing I really enjoyed about this day was something we said at the first stop: thank you for refusing to be domesticated and remaining wild. I hadn’t thought about the fact that some long ago animal ancestor had a choice to either live with humans or avoid them. Here are all these lovely companions who descend from an ancestor who chose to live with humans. How many of us have felt that our animals picked us?
It is our responsibility to take care of our companion animals--these creatures who choose to live with us instead of being wild. It is our responsibility to care for creation so the wild animals that are so magnificent have the right to continue to roam the face of the Earth. God is here with us and we can see God in all the creatures we encounter. So, kitty and puppy come join our morning prayers!