February 22, 2011

In recent weeks a good number of our members have faced the death or serious illness of a pet. Just yesterday Karen and I learned that one of our beloved dogs, Hudson, has intestinal lymphoma. Thus I have been thinking much about the relationship between humans and their animal companions and the theology of these relationships. I will develop my thoughts more fully in another setting but in a preliminary way a few key understandings are:

  1. Human beings and animals have been caring for each other for a long time. In the stories of creation we are both called good, humans give the animals their names and are instructed to care for the earth and its inhabitants. The relationship between human beings and animals is not to be taken lightly.
  2. Jesus instructs us to love God, neighbor and self. He also instructs us to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. There are many levels of meaning to this instruction but at the least it is clear that other living things have something to teach us.
  3. Any caring relationship involves difficult decisions and consideration of what the demands and limits of caring are. This reality is pronounced in our relationship with our pets and made more difficult by the fact that they cannot speak for themselves.
  4. Taking our relationships with animals seriously and caring for our animal companions does not mean we anthropomorphize them. While they feel and love, know joy and fear, they are not human beings with four legs and a tail. Thus, how we relate to them and what we ask of them is different of what we expect of, and ask of, our fellow human beings.
  5. Recognizing that not everyone has pets, or shares the same level of affinity with them, it is still incumbent on us to respect animals and our interdependent existence with them.
  6. The words I use at the Blessing of the Animals in the fall express what we need to communicate in and word and deed to our animal companions – "Bless you (name of pet.) You are part of God’s creation."

The music for John Pendleton’s service will begin at 12:45 on Saturday afternoon.