May 20 2012

Our Furred and Feathered Neighbors

“Every creature is a divine word because it proclaims God.” –Saint Bonaventure

Lately I’ve been reading a delightful book by Kenneth McIntosh called Water From An Ancient Well: Celtic Spirituality for Modern Life.  In one of the chapters the author talks about the role pets play in our lives.  He says here, “The Celtic saints understood that God uses the Earth’s living creatures to carry Divine love to humans.  These little brothers and sisters of ours often have a deeper, wordless wisdom we humans lack, one that points the way to the living streams where we all must drink.”  McIntosh goes on to say, “Ancient Celtic Christians perceived their relations with animals as signs of the Kingdom of God.”  He believes we would be wise to perceive them in the same way.  At the end of the chapter McIntosh offers this challenge: “So pay attention when your fellow creatures share their lives with you.  Watch closely.  Listen carefully.  Open your heart.  Let God speak to you through these furred and feathered neighbors.”

In recent days I’ve been thinking a lot about the important role pets play in our lives.  In part this thinking has been brought on by things I’ve seen posted on Facebook.  One longtime friend posted this message: We lost our dear sweet cat Princess this afternoon to cancer. It’s amazing how attached you get to your pets. She was 16 and well loved.”  Over the weekend members of my church posted several messages stating their beloved dog was missing.  They were desperately seeking help finding “Butter.”  Thankfully, Butter was found and returned safely home.

My heart went out to the owners of both Princess and Butter when I read their notes because I am a pet lover myself.  I have had pets my entire life.  My family had pet dogs when I was growing up (Tippy and Lucky).   I also had hamsters from time to time (one was named “TJ” after Thomas Jefferson).  My wife and I have been married almost 31 years.  During that time we have had three dogs.  Our first dog, Mandy, had a disease and did not live long.  Our second dog, Mert, (named after Thomas Merton) lived with us 18 years.  She lost a leg to cancer and was basically blind and deaf when she died in my arms.  Our current dog is named Sierra.  She is a “rescue dog.”  She was found abused and abandoned.  We consider her, like we did Mandy and Mert, part of the family.

Having had the pets I have over the years I can understand how the Celtic saints believed God uses animals “to carry Divine love to humans.”  I have certainly experienced that love through my pets.  There have been times when I’ve felt my dogs represented God’s love far better than me.  Over the years I have also benefitted from my pets’ “deeper, wordless wisdom.”  I really have learned a lot from them.

If you have a pet I hope you recognize it to be the divine gift he or she is.  I would also challenge you, as Kenneth McIntosh did, to “Watch closely.  Listen carefully.  Open your heart.  Let God speak to you through these furred and feathered neighbors.” If you will do these things, your life will be so much richer and full of love.  I cannot help but believe that’s just the way God planned it from the beginning.

–Chuck

(The two images posted above show our beloved “Sierra.”)