Celebration of Animals
if you will, a 12 year-old girl, sitting at the dinner table on a summer’s
evening. It is the night before her thirteenth birthday, and she is concentrating
hard on not getting too excited. The front door opens, and in walks an
older sister. Nothing unusual about that, she has three of them, after
all. Except that there is something unusual. Because instead of walking
to the kitchen, or to her bedroom as would be normal, the older sister
stops by her younger sister’s chair and waits in silence. "Well now,"
thinks the younger sister, "that’s just plain annoying. Two can play at
this game. Let the ignoring begin."
It’s hard to know how long the standoff might have continued. Hours perhaps,
given the stubbornness of the two parties involved. But we’ll never know,
because suddenly the silence is broken by the most unexpected of sounds:
"Eeeeeuuuuuu." (For those reading this, imagine the high-pitched meow
that only a young kitten can make.)
Whipping her head around, she sees a kitten a tabby perched uncomfortably
in her older sister’s pocket, just waiting for a birthday girl to notice.
It is love at first sight, and the beginning of a long and precious friendship.
The 12 year-old girl was me, and the six-week-old, furry girl was Tuesday
my long time companion.
Because animals and humans age at a different rate, a strange thing happened
over the many years Tuesday owned me. I started out as her ‘mother’ and
she ended up being the grand old lady of the house. Over time our roles
changed. But one thing stayed constant: for more than 18 years she was
my faithful friend.
St. Francis of Assisi, whose imprint on our world we celebrate today,
was a friend of furry ones. Francis was a lover of life. He knew about
God and animals. He knew that God permeates all life. Francis saw God
in children, poor and rich, kings and serfs, birds and wolves.
Francis knew that animals had much to teach humans. He watched the way
they interacted with their world, and learned from them. Take for instance
Faithfulness has a lot to do with being true to yourself, the self created
and loved by God. It is an expression of our spirituality. When we humans
allow them to, animals know how to be faithful to their spirituality of
play, generosity, loyalty and goodwill.
So to the four-legged and two-winged animals amongst us I urge you to
continue to be faithful. Continue to have fun, let go and let be, celebrate
life without feeling embarrassed or feeling guilty for "wasting time."
You teach us humans that the intensity of living is more important than
its duration. You teach us that play is an adult thing to do and needs
Those of you who are furry have much to teach those of us without fur
about listening, openness, touch, and sensitivity. Indeed many of us humans
are drawn to your world by our desire to touch, to stroke, to hug and
to hold. You enable us to show love without being ashamed or embarrassed.
When in your company we are often freer with our feelings than when in
the company of those of our own species. Thank you for inviting us to
be honest. Thanks too for your sensitivity to our feelings. I have met
both canine and feline friends who can enter a room and know, instinctively,
if someone is depressed, sad or unwell.
Continue also, my furry, feathered and scaly friends, to retain that ability
to be at home with silence and with solitude. You know the importance
of time alone with your thoughts, of time to daydream and snooze and explore.
You are aware that in all of life we worship God, and that worship doesn’t
necessarily require frenetic activity.
To the two-legged animals of my own species, let us learn from our brothers
and sisters about play, and sensitivity, and silence. Let us trust and
delight in our senses drinking in and enjoying life, creation, and ourselves
guiltlessly and passionately. Genesis 1 records the original blessing
we were created good. Let us believe in ourselves. Let us love ourselves.
Without self-love it is very hard to love your neighbor, or your neighbor’s
dog for that matter.
Those of us who put the food in the dish for others are also entrusted
with the power to preserve and sustain the whole animal world. This is
both a privilege and a responsibility. It is tempting to think that it
makes us more important that our many-legged friends. Sometimes we project
our human values onto them, and to do so can be dangerous. One such value
is that of usefulness. Of what use is an animal? To comfort, protect,
enjoy? Of what use then is a sick or differently-abled animal? Are they
to be thrown away like an old pair of socks when they are no longer of
Francis once wrote, "Blessed be that friar who loves his brother as much
when he is sick and can be of no use to him, as when he is well and can
be of use to him." Francis presumed that encouragement, love and respect
are the right of everyone, regardless of how many legs they had. How different
this is from the values of today, which suggest that love and respect
have to be earned, that all living things must be useful or profitable.
Our modern values can so easily lead us to justify exploitation and cruelty.
St. Francis would urge us to never be guilty of such sins against our
brothers and sisters.
Animals and humans can both respond to the invitation to be faithful.
To be faithful to the divine Spirit that flows through us. To be open
to the possibilities of a better world where animals receive the love
and respect that is rightly theirs, and where those with hands enjoy the
affection and trust of those with paws and claws. [The Ven. Glynn Cardy,
Paw and Hand, preached at St Andrew’s, Epsom, 6 October 2002 (amended)]
Animals have much to teach us -- about God, about our world, about ourselves.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the Venerable Glynn Cardy for allowing
me to plagiarise his sermon!
Copyright © 2003 by the author
All Rights Reserved
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