This Saturday is our annual Blessing of the Pets service at Decatur First. It's probably my favorite worship service of the year. For one thing, it's outside, which is where I wish we would have more worship services (and please please please send up all your weather prayers for no rain on Saturday morning - the gym is nice for basketball, but not as fun filled with wet dogs :) ). I know I'm not the only person who finds a special connection with God when I'm outside. And sure, being out in the woods or on a remote hillside or alone in the wilderness is great, but even being outside in downtown Decatur provides not only a reminder of God's provision for us in nature, but also some of the neat ways we as humans have found to live and move in this world.
But it's not just being outside that I love, it's the chance that we have to celebrate and bless those animals that have brought special love and joy into our lives. I believe we get a little glimpse of the divine in our relationship with our pets.
Four or five years ago, there was a series of photos going around the internet that purported to show a "war" between two churches (played out via their front lawn signs) about whether or not dogs go to heaven. Although the pictures actually came from an online church sign generator, the sequence is still pretty amusing. One church stood firmly on the side of animals going to heaven, while the other church argued that animals don't have souls and would therefore not be in heaven.
I make no apologies for the fact that I am firmly in the "animals in heaven" camp. For one thing, the Bible is full of imagery about the role of nature (and animals in particular) in praising God, and many of the images of the promises of God include animals:
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
In addition to this, though, is the way that our relationships with our pets can give us a small inkling of our relationship with God. The interesting thing is that it really goes both ways. Sometimes we are the provider for our pets - the one who sustains and nurtures them, the one who tends to their needs. Alternatively, sometimes they are the example of the divine for us - the ones who come running to greet us at the door no matter what we've done, the ones who love us unconditionally.
There's an old Pickles comic strip that captures this beautifully. In case you can't see the link, the woman puts down a bowl of food in front of her dog, Roscoe, and he thinks "She feeds me every day and cares for my every need... She must be a God." The woman then feeds her cat, Muffin, who likewise thinks "She feeds me every day and cares for my every need... I must be a God."
Yes and yes. As we ask a blessing on our pets this Saturday, may we be always aware of the blessing they are to us.