Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Blessing of the Animals: an intergenerational service

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, Aug. 22, 2010

We’re gonna sing this song at the end of the service, but let’s practice the chorus of it right now, okay?
“All God’s critters got a place in the choir,
Some sing low, some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire,
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they got now.”

Who are God’s critters? That is, who are the critters who live on the earth? Let’s just call out the species names of some of our favorite critters!

And why are they our favorites? What do these critters we’ve named do? What do they do for us? For the earth? Why are critters so important?

I remember when I was a kid growing up; we had lots of animals in our lives. We had a dog named Snicker (after the candy bar) who adopted our family when we moved to a town where he was a stray. We had cats occasionally but not often, because Snicker wasn’t that great with cats.

I had horses to ride and pet and feed and brush and hug and love because of a generous man in my Dad’s little church, who lent me a horse and all the things a horse needed, every summer. We had birds—both parakeets indoors and native birds outdoors.

On the ranches and farms around our little town, there were sheep and goats and cattle and pigs and chickens. In the fields and woodlands, there were deer and mice and squirrels and chipmunks and even an occasional bear. And there were skunks too, and raccoons.

I was surrounded by animals as I grew up and I learned to be gentle with them, to feed and water them properly, to use them or play with them carefully---not to hurt them by rough treatment or to hit them in anger if they didn’t behave the way I wanted them to. This wasn’t always easy, as I had a bit of a quick temper at times, but the look on Snicker’s face if I struck him in anger told me that I would lose his trust if I treated him badly.

When I’d go riding my horse, I had to remember that Prince or Dan or Coaly or Paleface was bigger and stronger than I was and I had to be careful about safety. I had to make sure my saddle was tightly cinched and that the bridle and bit were comfortably settled in the horse’s mouth. I had to be sensitive to the weather and know that thunder and lightning could scare my horse, and that it wasn’t a good idea to run my horse hard in really hot weather. Yes, I learned a lot about life from my animal friends.

There’s a funny story in my family about what I learned from horses. I was about ten years old and I was so crazy about horses, as lots of young girls are, that one day as our family was all together in the car, my mom and my dad and my sister and brother, I was gushing over how much I loved my horse Prince. Oh, I loved him so much! In fact, I loved him so much that someday I was going to marry him. My parents were wisely silent, until I said in a burst of enthusiasm, “yes, Daddy (my dad was a minister) will say to us at the wedding, I now pronounce you gelding and wife.” Yes, I got a little sex education too from my experiences with animals!

But how about you? What have you learned from the animals in your life? Have you learned something special from the animal you brought today to be blessed?

St. Francis of Assisi lived over 800 years ago in Italy and he loved animals too. Stories are told about St. Francis taming a wolf who had been terrorizing a small village, preaching to birds, and protecting the creatures of the woods and fields. Our blessing today of the animals we care for is to show our understanding and our agreement with the idea that animals are so important in our lives that we must always protect them and take care of them.

We have come to understand that we must not use animals carelessly, that if they work for us, as horses and cows and donkeys and dogs and other working animals do, we have a responsibility to see that they do not work too hard or too long or under bad conditions and that they receive good care, good food, good shelter.

Many of us have come to understand that using animals for food is something that must be done carefully and respectfully. Some of us don’t eat meat any more. Some of us eat only plants and their products for food. Some of us eat meat and fish but look for meat and fish that is humanely produced. And we don’t eat too much of it or eat it just because it’s the fashionable thing to do.

Our relationships with animals, whether they are our pets or our source of food or work or the wildlife we see in the fields and forest and oceans, must be in balance. We must not overfish the oceans; we must not overwork our work animals; we must not use up animals or animal habitat unnecessarily.

When our earth and its creatures are in balance, our lives are more in balance too. We are happier when our animals are happy and well-cared for. We receive so much love from our pets when they are happy and we feel bad when they are sick or injured or afraid.

What does it feel like to be out of balance? When you are dizzy, what does that feel like? Being dizzy is a kind of being out of balance. We can’t walk straight, we feel a little sick, we might even fall down. It’s not very much fun to be dizzy, even if we sometimes do it to be funny.

So we bless our animals today to tell them in our own way that they are important to us, that they help keep our lives in balance, and that we appreciate all that they do for us.

A blessing is a very strong wish for good things for someone or, in this case, our animals. When we bless them, we are wishing that they will have good health, good things to happen to them, good people to take care of them. And we are also promising them that we will help them have good health, good things, good people in their lives.

Our behavior toward our animals tells them even better than words that we care for them. So we are promising them the blessing of our good care.

As we get ready to do our animal blessing, I’m going to ask that we spread out a little bit, if necessary. We’ll do the smaller animals first and work our way up through the dogs and larger animals. I’m going to ask the owner what the animal’s name is and then I’m going to say, “Bless you ___ and may you live a long and happy and healthy life.” And we’ll give each animal a treat.

At the end of the blessing, we’ll have a time of silence in memory of all the dear animals that have blessed our lives and have given us so much love before they died. During that time of silence, I’ll invite you to speak out the names of those animals who have died and whose memory still gives you joy, even though you miss them very much.

Before we sing our final song, I will lead us in a commitment promise to our animals, saying out loud a pledge, a vow to treat animals with care and respect, in our homes, in our lands, and in meeting our food needs.

BLESSING: what is this animal’s name? _________ Bless you, ____, and may you live a long, happy, and healthy life.

SILENCE: (speak names of pets who have died into the silence)

COMMITMENT PLEDGE: (repeat after me)
I promise to treat the animals in my life
With respect and care.
I promise to care for my pets
by giving them good food, shelter, and love.
I promise to care for wildlife
By caring for the forests and fields and oceans where they live.
I promise to care for working animals
By treating them kindly and gently.
I promise to care for food animals
By respecting the gift they give with their bodies.
I make these promises
Knowing that my life is connected to theirs.
May it be so.

SONG: All God’s Critters

1 comment:

LinguistFriend said...

When one takes an idea such as blessing out of its original (human or divine) context,it provides an opportunity for clarification. The Greek New Testament has more than one word that corresponds to our "bless". W.E.Vine's book which is often useful to give one a first idea of the Greek terminology, does not include under "bless" the word that comes to my mind. That is the Greek word corresponding to "hallow" in the Lord's Prayer; Walter Bauer's great dictionary gives this word among other senses the meaning "treat as holy, reverence". This joins with Albert Schweitzer's notion of "reverence before life", rather than being stuck with trying to fit blessing into an awkwardly conventional context.