What does a love letter from God look like? For Christians, we see that letter in the bodily form of Jesus Christ.
What does a love letter from God look like? For me, it is all the above plus one. I see God’s love in dog-eared notes from God. Literally.
I’m not alone in seeing this love. Over the next week, thousands of churches throughout the world will be holding a Blessing of the Animals. This is done in remembrance of St. Francis, renowned for his love of God’s creation, whose Feast Day is Oct. 4.
But it is also done to return thanks for all that animals do for us. For me, it is a time to give thanks for the two dogs in my life and all 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 dogs and cats, donkeys, horses and llama, goldfish and even a hermit crab; stuffed animals standing in for the real thing have been blessed too. 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 they 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?
Most of us are long removed from our agrarian backgrounds, when we had to be attuned to creation because our lives, if not our livelihood, depended on it. Today the animals we keep – or who keep us – are one of the few links we have with a creation that we cannot fully control but still try to contain. Science has given us strawberries in all seasons but those hard red balls with white centers bear little resemblance to the succulent berries that come in the spring. And in winter I usually stay away from any bin in the produce section of the grocery store that reads ripe tomatoes. They might be red – sort of – but they sure aren’t ripe and I’m not even sure they’re tomatoes. I don’t think that is the way of God’s creation.
I’m not lapsing into pantheism, which is a worship of created things. We are worshipping our God who created all these things in the first place. This isn’t a new age but an old age, when God first created humanity and then turned creation over for our keeping. It’s a trust we’ve not always kept. We fail to notice trees and fields until they are cut away for a new subdivision. Sometimes the only clue to what once was lays in the various names that dot the county. Horses no longer romp and neigh in my neighborhood, named Bridlewood, where the only riding is done in cars or mowers.
What we need is a new way of seeing the world and the people in it through the eyes of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the best way to learn a new way of seeing is by doing. Some have learned a new way of seeing by working for one of the humane societies. Strange that we would label a place where you care for lost, wounded or abused animals, a humane society. But perhaps that is where some of us learn what it means to be fully human. In caring for a wounded member of God’s creation, they have learned to care for all of God’s creation. Seeing changes things. It changes us.
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.
The way to Eden land doesn’t lie behind us but before us. And it comes in the person of Jesus Christ who said, behold, I make all things new again. And it is Jesus who can take the damaged creation, or the damaged creatures we’ve become, and restore them to new life. When that happens, nature itself becomes still and gives hushed thanks to God. As do we.
THE REV. CYNTHIA TAYLOR IS THE PASTOR OF CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.