Blessing of the Animals
by Melody Kroeger
October 4, 2015
At least 10 years ago, a friend of mine and fellow animal lover, sent me a series of photos that still makes me laugh. I’m betting some of you have seen it making the Internet and email rounds.
Two churches in an unnamed town got to arguing. And it was a very public argument, played out on the large signs in front of their buildings—you know, the kind we have on our front lawn? The kind of sign with movable letters that can be arranged to spell out a sermon title or a thought for the week.
Maybe the Feast of St. Francis was coming up. Maybe it was their way of promoting the annual Blessing of Animals. I don’t know. But right there, plain as day, on the large sign in front Our Lady of Martyrs Catholic Church, it said:
All dogs go to heaven
Well, before you knew it, the Beulah Cumberland Presbyterian Church used its sign to reply:
Read the Bible. Only humans go to heaven
And . . . they were off and arguing. Next, the Catholic Church’s sign said:
God loves all creation, Dogs included
The Presbyterians, having none of it, replied:
DOGS DON’T HAVE SOULS. THIS IS NOT OPEN FOR DEBATE
Well, maybe the Catholics were just having a good time at the Presbyterians’ expense. The next week their sign said:
CATHOLIC DOGS GO TO HEAVEN. PRESBYTERIAN DOGS CAN TALK TO THEIR PASTOR
But the Presbyterians were not amused. Their next sign read:
CONVERTING TO CATHOLOCISM DOES NOT MAGICALLY GRANT YOUR DOG A SOUL
At which point the Catholic Church sign advertised:
FREE DOG SOULS WITH CONVERSION
Well, this of course gave the Presbyterians fits. The next week, their sign all but huffed:
DOGS ARE ANIMALS. THERE AREN’T ANY ROCKS IN HEAVEN EITHER
And that, apparently, is when the Catholics and the Presbyterians in this little town stopped talking to each other.
Now I don’t know where in the Bible these (probably fictional) Presbyterians thought it says that only humans go to heaven. And it is true, the Bible doesn’t say much about dogs – or about any animal going to heaven. In fact, scripture doesn’t say anything at all! But, the Bible does say a lot about love. And so, given what we know about the unconditional love our animal companions freely offer to us, then perhaps the Bible does talk about dogs a lot more than we realize.
Hebrew Scripture tells us that God created the “waters teeming with living creatures, and birds to fly across the vault of the sky”. Creation stories are full of creatures: cattle and creeping things, every living creature that moves or flies or swims God created them. And, Scriptures tell us; God saw that they were good, and blessed them.
Scriptures also give us some sense of where these creatures fit into God’s scheme of things and therefore calls us to be good stewards of it all. God makes the covenant with Noah and his family saying, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.” (Genesis 9:9-10)
“I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” God takes all creatures and the earth itself seriously enough to make covenant with them. The apostle Paul speaks of the whole creation waiting and groaning for redemption.
All too often, however, we fail to see the divine in other creatures and living things. Living our specialized, sophisticated, materialistic, technological and hyper-functional lives, we forget that our lives are made richer by the creatures that surround us.
Who can spot the tiny hummingbird flitting around the garden and not wonder about the miracle of flight? Who can see a flock of geese tearing a v across the pale winter sky and not feel a shiver of alone-ness? Indeed, our very survival is dependent on the lowly and ordinary creatures beneath our feet.
A study concluded that in dry climates, ants and termites increased wheat crop yields by a whopping 36 percent.
Ants have also been essential to production of coffee and chocolate. Okay, so we certainly don’t need coffee or chocolate to survive, but there are people who believe they do…
Will Rogers once commented “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” —
Dogs never lie about love. They are the model of pure joy, pure disappointment and pure devotion. Who do we rely upon to lead our blind, herd out flocks and guard our house?
We often laugh at the exuberant greeting our dogs give us after a brief absence. We tend to explain it by assuming a kind of dumbness on the part of our pet: The dog thought I was gone forever. Dogs, we say, have no sense of time. Yet a lover is entranced to see the beloved again after even a brief absence–and dogs are all about love. And who, other than God, loves us unconditionally?
And this is why it is good and proper that we celebrate a Blessing of the Animals: because, if we let them, pets and other animals and all living things reveal God’s love to us.
There is a bumper sticker I particularly like – “Lord help me be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.” In their pure and unconditional love for us, our animal companions show us both how to love and how to be loved. They teach us to live joyfully – that every day is a gift. In their total devotion to and dependence on their human providers, they call us to greater awareness of our relationship with our Creator.
So let us open our hearts to all God’s creatures, that we might all be more faithful to our real work, that of loving God and letting God love us.
Let me close with a thought-provoking reflection I found at the vet’s office:
If you can start your day without caffeine,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook it when people take things out on you
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can eat the same food, day-after-day, and be grateful for it,
If you can do ALL these things, then, you are probably the FAMILY DOG.