I try most Sundays to wake up, grab some coffee and sit down to write. Some weeks prayer comes out of me and some weeks it does not and I try and allow for whatever happens.
But today was different. I was not in my yellow chair, waiting to see if words made it onto paper. This morning, on the Feast of St Francis, I sat in my car in the ER parking lot of an animal hospital.
(My friend Lenny texted me this.)
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I tweeted, “Veterinary emergency rooms should have chaplains.” The replies were heartbreaking because the love we have for our pets is real and the grief we feel from losing them is a deep grief. A grief uncomplicated by the ambiguity that accompanies the loss of humans.
Growing up, I had a Siamese cat who was 2 years older than me. Her name was Susan and she consistently sided with me in any argument or family conflict. Every couple of years may have brought another move to yet another town, but the familiarity of my cat - her smell, her fur, her affection - remained constant. She was unbothered by my mood, my ill health, my anger. I was 18 when Susan died, taking with her an understanding of who I am that no human could have shared.
I never had a dog, nor even knew I could love a dog until Zacchaeus, a 160 lb. gentle giant of a Great Dane came into my family’s life in 2010. For six years, that House Pony was the primary source of affection in my life and honestly I’m not sure how I could have survived without him. He lived with my son the last couple years until last week when Zacchaeus died, having outlived his life expectancy by at least 18 months. My phone had been on do-not-disturb, so I didn’t know until I woke up that Judah texted me at 4 a.m. to say that he was taking Zacchaeus to the vet. That morning I wept for my son, having to say goodbye to our sweet boy without me there, I wept for the gratitude of getting to love such a great dog, and also I wept knowing how lonely I was in the years he companioned me.
Maybe the grief we feel when we lose a pet touches the grief we feel for not being loved in the way we need by the humans in our lives. I mean, our pets love us in a way humans never can and in turn we love our pets in a way we can never love other humans. There is something pure about these beasties.
I succumbed and got a puppy in March. Gertrude Stein, a French Bulldog. She’s already brought me so much love and so much joy in the midst of such a shit year.
She’s in the hospital right now, being treated for pneumonia. We are waiting to hear and my heart is in my hands. I cannot believe how much I love that silly little dog and at the same time I CAN believe it.
So no prayers from me today.
But, in honor of St Francis, here’s a Psalm:
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
9 you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
old men and children.
I love that the praise of God comes forth from flying things, creeping things, mountains, hills, wild beasts….cattle and that THEN and only then do we get to human beings who, if you are keeping track, come after the cattle.
That’s right. We come after the cattle. Because we’re complicated.
I think maybe animals, in their not-nearly-as-complicatedness, have something to teach us about praise. Because I’m pretty sure that praising God is not the same as sycophantically stroking God’s ego because God has low self-esteem and created a cosmic entourage just to remind God how great he is. I’m pretty sure the cattle aren’t doing this. The way in which creeping things of the Earth praise God is to simply creep on the Earth. The creatures simply praise the creator by being creatures. Their being is in itself praise of the source of their being.
I think the difference is that the cattle don’t get their identity or sense of worth outside of God. Sea creatures aren’t looking to the Dow Jones or their Body Mass Index to know their value. Their value, as ours, rests in their createdness by God.
How beautiful is that? And what if the same is true for us? We are creatures who praise our creator simply by being creatures. Your being is in itself an act of praise toward the source of your being.
Maybe it is this kind of uncomplicated love and acceptance we glimpse in our sweet little animals.
So, to those who have new pets, I celebrate this with you and hope that house training comes quickly. To those who are having more time at home with your animal companions, I share in your gratitude for their love. And for those who are grieving the loss of a beloved pet, I see you. Even this grief is holy to God who made us all.
I could not possibly write about God and animals without mentioning: Doorkins The Magnificent
It was announced Friday that sadly, Doorkins the Magnificent passed over the rainbow bridge, as it were. Doorkins lived for over 10 years in the Southwark Cathedral in London. She even has a Twitter account, the bio of which reads “I run Southwark Cathedral.” Below is a picture of her upstaging me when I was lecturing there a year ago:
Rest in peace, your majesty. You will be missed.
Catch me tonight on “The Ally Tour”!
If you’d like to support New Beginnings, the Women’s Prison ministry I love, join me at this event:
Virtual Chow Hall Gala
Friday, October 9, 2020 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Direct questions to MaryKatherine.NBWC@gmail.com
• Powerful Guest Speakers • Paddle Raiser
• Musical Performances
For detailed information and to buy tickets go to https://events.handbid.com/auctions/virtual-chow-hall-gala/tickets
Hear our speakers clear the bases and bring home another year of support for this ministry.
Have you read Anne Lamott’s amazing books?
“In response to the murder of George Floyd, the town of Marin City, California hosted a march and peaceful rally in June. As people left the event, many placed their protest signs on the grounds of Saint Andrew Presbyterian church, located in the heart of this Black community. We are a diverse church, racially and economically. With that, we have a long history of social justice activism both locally and nationally. In an effort to sustain the spirit of the June march and to promote the message of the Black Lives Matter movement, we created a collage from some of the signs and turned it into a large banner which hangs on the front of our building. We are pleased to offer this beautiful collage on a variety of T-shirts and a tote bag for purchase.”
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