home from the hospital, it was still several months before I could return
to work. I had been temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, due to
a neurological disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. After undergoing
physical therapy to learn to walk again, I hobbled around on a cane for
a while. I was able to get rid of the cane and walk normally after attending
a healing service at a local Episcopal church. The healing was not complete,
though; I still struggle with pain in my lower legs and feet on an almost-daily
basis, usually in the late afternoon or evening.
My healing is still in process. I believe my healing has been greatly
accelerated, though, through the prayers of friends as well as by the
ministrations of a Reiki healer and also by my partner Michael (a massage
therapist). One member of my holistic healing team is a feline massage
therapist who came into our household a few months ago. His previous human
named him Kato, after Inspector Clouseau's butler who would jump out at
him unexpectedly. Our Kato similarly has bursts of energy in which he
races across the apartment and pounces upon prey that we mere humans cannot
Kato (the cat) has the ability to tell which one of my feet or lower legs
is hurting. It's neurological pain, which can be very sharp and intense.
Kato will come and lay down on the hurting foot, sometimes for half an
hour, purring loudly and sometimes stroking the foot (from side to side,
unlike kneading). If the other foot starts hurting he will get up and
move to that foot. It's very calming and helps ease the pain. "Laying
on of hands" with paws.
The other day when I hurt my toe by pulling a chair onto it (as clumsy
bears sometimes do), Kato came running from the other side of the apartment
and immediately began licking the hurt toe. (Actually, this has happened
Once, when I was lying in bed and one of my feet and one of my legs was
hurting, Kato laid his head on the hurting foot and put his back paws
on the other leg, exactly where the pain was. I was amazed and called
my partner, Michael, to come look at it. Michael said, "Well, he's a good
little healer." I said, "Yes, but sometimes he can be snooty" (which is
true; he only does massage therapy if he is in the mood). As soon as I
said "snooty," Kato got up, looked me straight in the eye, and jumped
down off the bed. I have learned not to dis the cat.
I have also learned that many others have been ministered to by cats,
dogs, birds, and other animals. Animals have functioned as ministers as
far back as Biblical times. The prophet Elijah was ministered to by ravens,
who brought him bread and meat twice a day in the wilderness (I Kings
17:2-6). Jonah was rescued from the stormy sea by a great fish who delivered
him safely to Ninevah (Jonah 1-2). Balaam's donkey saved his life when
he saw the angel of the Lord when Balaam could not (Numbers 22:22-35).
(I've wondered at times if Kato is seeing angels when his ears perk up
and he stares intently at invisible things.)
Jesus himself was apparently ministered to by wild animals. When he spent
forty days in the wilderness following his baptism, he was not alone:
"he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him"
(Mark 1:13 ESV). Animals figured prominently in many of Jesus‚ parables,
as Matthew Fox, theologian of Creation
Spirituality, has pointed out:
Jesus was evidently
not a human chauvinist at all. For instead of controlling animals and
ordering them about, he observed them very, very closely and learned
from them. In fact, so much did he learn from animals that he continually
uses them as symbols for the reign of God on earth. "The birds of the
air," the "sparrow falling from its nest," the fish gathered and not
wasted, the sheep and the goats, the one lost sheep--all Jesus‚ parables
that include animals reveal how humble he was toward them. He sensed
the harmony and the interdependence that we share with all living things.
A Spirituality Named Compassion, p. 163
Jesus was born among the animals, in a manger--a feeding trough (Luke
2:7). In fact, animals were present at many significant "beginnings" throughout
the Bible. God preserved animals as well as Noah's family in the story
of the flood (Genesis 7:1-4). God refused to destroy Ninevah out of concern
for the city's animals as well as its humans (see Jonah 4:11). Animals
were present when Moses had his burning bush experience (Exodus 3:1).
Shepherds, out tending their flock by night, were the first to hear the
good news of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:8-17).
The prophet Hosea decried the suffering of animals as one of the consequences
of the sins of humans (Hosea 2:18; 4:1-3). And the apostle Paul writes
about the liberation of all creation, not just humans (Romans 8:19-23).
Those of us who believe in biblical
panentheism know that God is in all things and all things are in God--including
the animals which God created. Pelagius, a gentle monk who was decried
as a heretic by Augustine, understood this deeply. Like other Celtic Christians,
he wrote beautifully of God's spirit dwelling in the ministers of fur
(and feather and fin):
Look at the
animals roaming the forest: God's spirit dwells within them. Look at
the birds flying across the sky: God's spirit dwells within them. Look
at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God's spirit dwells within
them. Look at the fish in the river and sea: God's spirit dwells within
them. There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent. . .
. . . Look
too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the
grass in the fields; look even at your crops. God's spirit is present
within all plants as well. The presence of God's spirit in all living
beings is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God's eyes,
nothing on the earth is ugly. . .
. . . All love
comes from God; so when our love is directed towards an animal or even
a tree, we are participating in the fullness of God's love.
Letters of Pelagius: Celtic Soul Friend, edited by Robert Van de Weyer,
Animals figure prominently in God's vision of the New Creation, a future
time when animals and humans will live peaceably together:
wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with
the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like
the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the
weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt
or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the
knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:6-9 ESV).
I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I
will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make
you lie down in safety" (Hosea 2:18 ESV).
God's New Creation will be a time when all of God's creatures, animals
and humans alike, will continue to minister to each other and to be a
healing presence in each others‚ lives. Sometimes we can get a glimpse
of that coming reality, in the gentle warmth of a minister in fur.
--- Darrell Grizzle is an interfaith bear who is active in Gay Spirit
Visions, the Sufi Healing Order, and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship in
Atlanta. His article "Resisting Oppression Within and Without" will be
published in the Summer 2003 issue of White Crane: A Journal of Gay Men's
Spirituality. Darrell's website is www.WildFaith.com.
Copyright © 2003 by the author
All Rights Reserved
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