~ The Life of Every Living Thing ~
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you…and the fish of the sea will declare to you… In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.”
Dear Members and Friends,
There are statues of St. Francis of Assisi in some of the most unlikely places. Now, saint statues tend to be the unique domain of Catholics. And not just Catholics, but devout ones at that. Not so St. Francis. I’ve even seen St. Francis in the flowerbeds of a Methodist church. He has a loyal following among Protestants and the nonreligious as well. Why? Because he’s the patron saint of animals and of earth care—two things that are dear to the hearts of many. St. Francis’ exuberant hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King, goes on for at least eight verses, lauding the wonders of the created order. You’ve probably seen this saint’s shaved head in gardens, and lawns, and places where animals are kept. He’s often depicted with a flock of birds circling round his hairless crown, for he preached to the birds. St. Francis Day is October 4, and so those churches that do a service of blessing for animals tend to do them in early October.
There’s no use in pretending that I wanted to do a service of blessing for animals. I wear too much black to share space with fur-bearing creatures. It’s not that I dislike animals, and I would certainly never be unkind to one. Many a time I’ve nearly wrecked my car to avoid running over a squirrel on the leafy streets of Mt. Lebanon. And yet, when the topic arose in confirmation class, most of the kids were really excited about doing a pet blessing right here at Bower Hill Church. And as any minister or church school teacher knows, if your kids get excited about anything you’re talking about, you just need to follow their lead!
Also, I think they’re onto something. A love for animals indicates a kind respect for life in its rich and varied forms. Much younger children all seem to have a deep fascination with animals—both extant and extinct: stuffed animals, pet animals, dinosaurs of every description. As we grow older, that wonder and respect for life branches out to include marine life, and plants, and insects, and the little beasties in the soil that make it productive or not. Mold, and algae, and fungi all take part in the great epic drama of all the living. Even the inner life of the human heart and mind remain things of mystery and marvel. I’ve been known to stand in awe of a handsome tree for half an hour or more. There’s a kind of humility—perhaps even wisdom—that comes from the recognition that life is bigger than we know and infinitely more diverse and complex. Even a common housefly is a being far more sophisticated than I could create, with its remarkable vision, its hand-wringing, its jerky, indirect flight on translucent wings. It gives us to know that we, too, are creatures; that the life within us is just like theirs. It is not our own doing, but a gift to be cherished and treated with reverence.
And so…we too will be conducting a service blessing for the animals, largely led by the youth, on Saturday, October 6, at 9:00 a.m. on the front lawn of the church. Bring your pets and domestic beasts both large and small. Come dogs, cats, birds, snakes, and tarantulas. (Just be aware that “blessing” and “touching” are not synonymous for those last two.) Come horses, and chinchillas, and guinea pigs, and little white rats. Bring a blanket or lawn chair to sit on. The kids will provide the music. There will be a short sermon and refreshments to follow. Please keep your animal on a leash, in a cage, or completely restrained at all times!
In Christ’s Peace,
PS: Bower Hill Week at the Chautauqua Institution is July 20-26, 2019 (Week 5). The Rev. Otis Moss III, of Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago (the Obamas’ home church), is the daily preacher. Ira Glass, of NPR’s This American Life, provides the week’s entertainment. The week’s theme is “The Life of the Spoken Word.” The Chautauqua Institution is “like a summer camp for people who like to think about things.” If you are even a little intrigued about going, please talk to me!