Pets are a wonderful blessing…well, for the most part. I have had dogs most of my life, and except for the times when my favorite shoes get chewed up or potty training was going badly, I have loved every minute of being with my dogs.
Well, there was the time Georgia ate half a pork roast, an entire bag of bagels (including the plastic bag,) a left-over baked potato, and then polished it all off with a scented candle. A scented candle! Palate cleanser, perhaps? Oh, yes, and the time she broke through the decorative fence at my daughter’s house, ran helter-skelter across the golf course disrupting everyone’s game, and then jumped in the lake, right on top of a duck. The whole time I was chasing her and yelling for her to stop. Her temporary and utterly complete hearing loss in that moment has always amazed me.
But our pets are part our family, and we cherish them. We may even like them better than members of our family….let’s face it, sometimes they are better behaved than particular family members.
There is a wonderful celebration of animals of all kinds in many Anglican-based churches called the “Blessing of the Animals.” It is usually held around October 4th, which is the traditional feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, known for his great love of all creatures great and small. Animals are brought to the church grounds or inside the sanctuary (with towels provided for “spills”) and the priest/pastor/vicar offers an individual blessing for each one. Water used to be used, but the cat union got on that one pretty quickly, so now it’s just a laying on of hands that goes along with the spoken blessing. In my denomination, we say this:
Bless, O Lord, this creature,
and fill our hearts with thanksgiving for its being.
I have officiated Blessings of the Animals a few times in my ministry, and the most exotic animal I have blessed was a very large lizard named George. Another pastor was with me that day, so I indicated to the boy with the snake that he should get in that pastor’s line. I was amazed at the number of church members who brought their animals, and it was a joy to watch their faces light up when their turn came to step forward. (The people, not the pets. If the snake’s face lit up, I will never know. Thanks be to God.)
In the book of Genesis, God gives humanity the care and protection of all of the animals he created:
Genesis 1 (The Message)
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
This is why churches for centuries have done blessings of the animals. We have been given a great gift, and with it comes a greater responsibility. God asks us to be responsible for EVERY living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.
If we take this seriously, we would all run to our local animal shelter right now and adopt a pet, as we are able.
If we take this seriously, we would all run to our local animal shelter right now and donate money or supplies, as we are able.
If we take this seriously, we would become animal rights advocates, denounce sport hunting, and become vegan, as we are able.
If we take this seriously, we would take good care of the pets with which we have been entrusted and look after our neighbor’s pets, as we are able.
If we take this seriously, we would safely pull over and move a turtle off the road, as we are able. (If you do this, place the turtle on the grass in the direction he was going, not back the way he was coming from. Otherwise, he will just go out in the road again. Just a little OBX wisdom.)
Our pets are a blessing to us. If you have one, love them tenderly today. If you don’t, reach out with some form of support to your local shelter or to a neighbor who might appreciate it if you offered to walk their dog. God is counting on us to care for his creation. We fill our hearts with thanksgiving for them being here with us.
Blessing of the Animals at Colington UMC. Photo by Patrice White Taylor-Welch.