Over the next week, thousands of churches worldwide will be holding a Blessing of the Animals. This is done in remembrance of Saint Francis, known for his love of God’s creation, and whose Feast Day is Oct. 4. But it’s also done to return thanks for all that animals do for us. For me, it’s a time to give thanks for the two dogs in my life and ‘the many pets that have journeyed with me over the years.
The Blessing of the Animals is one of my favorite days of the year. I’ve blessed everything from dogs and cats to snakes and lizards, to donkeys and horses. Even marine animals aren’t left out (they come in bowls, thank you very much); stuffed animals standing in for the real thing have been blessed as well. There is always a sense of anticipation in these blessings. It’s as if all creatures of our God and King know we are about to say grace.
Christians speak of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ and what that feels like. For some people, they first learned such love through the unconditional love of the cat, who lay curled on their bed until a sickness passed, or the dog who offered an unfailingly warm welcome when you came home after a long day at school or work. The thought came slowly, that if members of God’s creation can show such unconditional love, what must the love of our Creator God be like? In my parish, when we bless animals, it’s a reminder that we are to be God’s holy comforters, not only to His broken people but to a broken creation in need of healing.
This Sunday, Oct. 1, we are inviting people to bring their pets to church, to be part of our regular worship service. Yes – inside. I expect a cacophony of sounds but also a bundle of blessings to be unleashed. They are being brought in, not just so that we can bless them, but so that we can see the blessings God gives us through these beloved creatures.
One of the prayers we use says, “May we bless these animals with a Noah-like protection from all that may harm them. May we, like Adam and Eve, speak to these creatures of Yours with kindness and affection, revering their lives and purposes in our communal creation. May we never treat them as dumb animals but rather let us seek to learn their language and to be a student of all the secrets they know.” (Author unknown)
What if we all took the time to learn the language of creation, as well as the language of those around us? Not just the language of other countries but the language of the soul? Wouldn’t the world be a richer place? A place of understanding and peace? Animals teach us how to love without discrimination. They don’t care about the color of our skin or the amount in our checking account. They just love. If so-called dumb animals can do this, why can’t we?
The Rev. Cynthia Taylor is the pastor of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Martinez.