Today is the Feast of St. Francis, and the Episcopalian church near Elizabeth’s house was celebrating the Blessing of the Animals. We decided to take Elizabeth’s dog Cookie, and I loved the service so much.
There were around fifteen dogs present, two cats in their carriers, a guinea pig, a terrarium with hermit crabs, and one kid brought two of his stuffed animals. We met in a church alcove, and for the first five minutes, chaos reigned as the dogs asserted their dominance and the owners struggled to quiet them. The lovely thing was that no one cared – we were here for the animals, and their chaos is part of their character.
Two reverends came out to lead us in a hymn and some responsive prayers. One woman read Genesis 1:20-25. Then came my favorite part, as we prayed collectively for the pets specifically and animals in general.
O God, you created all living things on the face of the earth and gave us dominion over them: Grant that we may be faithful to this trust in the way we treat all animals, both wild and tame. Teach us to admire their beauty and to delight in their cunning; to respect their strength and to wonder at their intelligence. Grant that our use of them may be both merciful and wise. So may we lend our voice to their praise of your goodness, which endures for ever. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of all things and giver of all life, let your blessing be upon all these animals. May our relationships with them mirror your love, and our care for them be an example of your bountiful mercy. Grant the animals health and peace. Strengthen us to love and care for them as we strive to imitate the love of Jesus Christ our Lord and God’s servant Francis. Amen.
The service concluded with the two reverends blessing each animal individually, saying, “May Cookie and she who cares for her be blessed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” They sprinkled the animals with water from a frond, gave them a pat, and moved on. We all prayed together once more before we were dismissed to take the over-anxious animals home.
I loved it. I loved it so much. My heart felt enormously full the entire time, because HERE WERE MY PEOPLE. Here were people who loved their pets, who wanted to remind themselves that this was not a meaningless relationship, but one rooted in Scripture, ordained and blessed by God. Reverend Simpson blessed the little boy’s stuffed animals, not because the toys needed a blessing – but because the boy needed to see that his love is valid, encouraged, and strengthened. How much more so for those of us who have living, breathing animals for whom we are responsible.
I wish Rory could have been there, though it’s probably best he wasn’t terrified at being in a room with fifteen barking dogs. I’m grateful for my mom, who is making sure he gets lots of snuggles while I am away. And I’m so glad that God brought him into my cat-less life, so that “my relationship with him would mirror God’s love, and my care for him be an example of God’s bountiful mercy.”
No wonder St. Francis is my favorite saint.