Pet Blessing Homily
Scripture: Genesis 1:24-31; Psalm 104:10-25; Matthew 6:25-33
Jessica Star Rockers
October 8, 2017
Eagle Harbor Congregational Church
The first time I met with the youth group my ice breaker question to them was, name all the pets you have ever owned in your lifetime. This is 5th through 10th graders, so their lists were pretty manageable. But as the only person of the group entering middle age, and the only one who grew up on a farm, it took me a while to go down my list of names. And I will spare you the same fate that I subjected the youth group to, but suffice it to say, it’s a long list. And each animal companion has a personality and story I can connect to some moment of my life, some particular time and place. Even just calling that pet to mind brings back all sorts of memories of where I lived and who I was and who else loved this animal that I loved. And the story of that pet’s passing, particularly the ones that had lived with us for fifteen or twenty years, each one I can distinctly remember how life changed after they were gone. There was a shift, things noticeably different after that, without their presence. This says a lot I think about the place that animal companions take up in our lives, and our relationship to them.
Right now I have several pets: a dog, a cat, five chickens, three bunnies. I think that’s it. And my dog, Keo was recently sick, actually. Keo is our Bainbridge dog. We moved here twelve years ago in January, and we got Keo just a few weeks after moving in. And until recently, he has been a pretty healthy and energetic animal. But last weekend he came down with pneumonia.
The pneumonia was bad enough that one afternoon his breathing got really shallow and labored, and when I looked over at him, his tongue had a blue tint to it. So we rushed him to the vet and he ended up on oxygen, in the animal hospital, sedated. They weren’t sure he would make it through the night. The vet started hinting that it was time to make some hard decisions.
So we cried, my partner and my son and I. Which was helpful, honestly. And then we started to imagine life without Keo. It’s almost as if Keo comes with the house. Maybe you have a pet like that. Maybe some of your pets here today are like that. You can’t imagine living in the house without them. Their energy, their spirit, the routines of their life, their little personalities. Our dog Keo is an integral part of what makes our house a home.
And we are the ones tasked with the responsibility of saying Keo’s time on this earth is done. This is a difficult relationship to have with another creature. In our scripture today we heard about God creating heaven and earth. And that humans were tasked with filling the earth and subduing it; having dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
And so when I think about my poor old dog who isn’t doing well, I think about this idea of dominion. My dog’s life is precious to me. And I believe that he has as much right to life as I do. And our two equally important lives are intertwined in this complicated way, where I am the one with all the power.
Recently my son and I went to Battlepoint park. And it was during the wildfires in British Columbia, and we watched as a huge flock of geese came down from the sky and landed in the pond at Battlepoint. And my son said, I wonder if they are here to escape the smoke. And then we watched as they washed themselves, bathing in that pond as I had never seen geese do before. They were going under the water and coming up and spinning around and then flap flap flapping their wings, splashing, slapping them against the water. Getting themselves clean. Maybe they were trying to wash off all the smoke. And in that moment I was overcome with the sense that my life and their lives were intertwined. We were both affected by the changes in the climate around us, both responding in relationship to the planet, and in relationship to one another as well.
Well I watched those geese and I thought, how do I hold all of this responsibility. There is something unique about being human. Unitarian Universalists call it the interdependent web. This is the whole of creation. And as humans we hold a special place. We are both part of the interdependent web of life, and we have an enormous amount of control over it as well. Made in God’s image. We are of the earth, and somehow separate. We are animals, some of us are carnivores, but we also have pets who exist just to share in love and companionship. We are connected to nature in this deeply spiritual way, a way that is only possible because we are a part of nature, but we also have the most power, to do both harm and good.
When we think about dominion in this way, it becomes less of a hierarchical relationship, this language of subduing, and more about how to participate with integrity in creation. One of my favorite benedictions is your words are God’s words, your hands are God’s hands, your feet are God’s feet. This isn’t to say you are God. Sorry to disappoint you. But it does point directly at our experience of God in the world. Which is in relationship. To all of creation. Our beloved animals, whose precious lives rest in our hands. The earth, and its wild creatures and wild spaces, that we are tasked with protecting. When I hear that we are made in the image of God, to me this means that just like with the story of Jesus, our love can save all of creation, and our disregard can doom it as well. This is our sacred relationship, as humans, with God and with one another and with all of creation.
And so in a little bit when we do our animal blessing, I will be calling forward all creatures. From no legged to eight legged, any number of legs. Our place as humans in the whole of creation is a sacred place that comes with enormous responsibility. The animals that we have brought with us today are a piece of that, members of our family. Part of our experience of God and love, part of what makes home, and part of this sacred relationship that we have with one another, with all of creation, and with whom today we give thanks and praise.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.