Women of the ELCA

Commentary and reflections on issues, events and trends in our church, society and world, as seen through the lens of our mission and purpose and our ministries.

The blessing of animals

Posted on September 29, 2009 by Kate Sprutta Elliott

This coming Sunday is the day on which Evangelical Lutheran Worship commemorates Francis of Assisi (October 4). It has become custom in many churches to bless pets on St. Francis day and I know pastors in congregations where animals are welcome at worship that day.

Well, I’d never bring my cat Smitten to worship–he’s too grouchy and bite-y to take out in public. But it does make me think about how our animal companions bless us. I’m glad they get a day to be blessed in return.

People who don’t have pets—such as my mother—don’t understand why the animals that live in our homes and in our hearts are so important to us. In her worldview, while dogs and cats and hamsters and the like may be cute and funny, they aren’t worth the hassle:  the trips to the vet, the hair on your furniture, what to do with them when you travel … not to mention the path of destruction that even good-mannered pets can leave in their wake.

When my cat was younger, he used to pull every tissue out of the Kleenex box while I was at work. When he was done with that, he’d unroll the toilet paper. If he still had some time, he’d chew the buttons off shirts in the laundry basket. He didn’t swallow them, I’m relieved to say. He piled them carefully under one of the pillows on my bed. He is nothing if not industrious.

Aside from amusement, animal companions give us acceptance and affection and attention–at least some of the time. It’s nice to have someone so happy to see me when I get home from work. And it’s not based only on the condition of his food bowl–Smitten has crunchers available all day and can snack whenever he wants. No, we share a home and a day-to-day routine that bond us. He is happy to snuggle in my lap and have his chin rubbed, even if it’s only for a few minutes. He follows me around to see what I’m doing (and he seems to be sincerely interested).

I consider it a privilege to have his trust and loyalty. I count it among my blessings to have his company for the years given to us.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. How about you? Will your congregation bless animals on Sunday?  Do you give special thanks for the animals who share your home? Do you count them among the blessings of this life?

4 Responses to 'The blessing of animals'

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  1. Jenny Michael said,

    on September 29th, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    While I respect all cat lovers out there… Kate, you are certainly included… I have always been a “dog person”.

    I have read “Marley & Me”… I get all choked up watching “Milo & Otis”… but one of the best quotes I have ever found about just what the fuss is all about comes from a hunter/author & dog-lover, Gene Hill. He wrote this about his dog back in the 70’s…

    “He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful. He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.”

    My two little ones (Squishy, a rather darling but opinionated pug and Ulysses, my beautiful “big yellow dog”, a lab) fill me so very much joy that I can hardly contain myself sometimes. My heart squeezes each time one of them lays their head on my lap… I feel a sense of peace and rest when we have all settled on the bed together for a nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon… a couple of snorts and a long sigh and all is well with my world that day.

    I, too, have a mother who fusses at me because she doesn’t understand the connection… but for me, it is just like Gene Hill says, they “have promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need (them). And I expect I will – as I always have.” They are just my dogs. 

    Jenny Michael

  2. Kate Sprutta Elliott said,

    on September 29th, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Jenny, what a great quote! I certainly have appreciation for dogs, but in a city like Chicago, a cat is an easier keeper. Plus, Smitten can catch (and eat) moths and other bugs. This is very helpful. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Terri said,

    on September 29th, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Louie, my one-eyed hound dog, always gets to preach on Pet Blessing Sunday. Because he is the pastor’s pet. Spunk, my fierce terrier, is happy to sit in the pew with me and take photos of all the other dogs and cats and gerbils. It’s a feast of the noses.

  4. Audrey Riley said,

    on September 30th, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Our Frango (Chicagoans will recognize that name) is a blessing in his own little furry self. He’s an elegant 15-year-old now, a pampered elderly gentleman cat, but he didn’t start out like that.

    He was a feral kitten from a tough neighborhood, brought in from the cold by a young woman I worked with. Her mother ordered that the kitty find a new home when he made a mess on her carpet — so we took him in.

    He had a rough start with us. He was terrified of everything and everyone. He didn’t like to be petted, and picking him up was occasion for a panic attack. He also had a stubborn bladder infection, which meant I had to pick him up and force pink bubble-gum-flavored amoxicillin down his little throat twice a day for weeks. I can’t believe he ever forgave me, but he has. As the years have passed, he’s relaxed a lot, but he’s still shy–most of our friends have only seen the tip of his tail as he runs to hide when people come over.

    Anyway, not long ago, we had a visitor, a young friend from church. Frango disappeared as always. Then as we chatted in the living room, he came out to look at her again.

    He stared and stared at her. He sat down and gave her the long slow blink (feline for “I love you”) several times, did all his little tricks for her, and even purred for her. I was astonished. And once I figured out what that was all about, I was touched.

    Our visitor was a slim young woman with dark hair and a soft voice — like Theresa, who had brought Frango in from the alley. A lifetime later, little Frango remembered the first person who had been kind to him. And the memory led him to put aside his shyness to purr for someone who reminded him of her.

    Who was it that said love casts out fear? Frango showed us how that works. He’s a blessing.

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