I have been reading a wonderful article from The Way journal by Andrew Linzey who is a theologian and writer on animal theology. I was delighted to discover that he has in fact published several books on the subject.
Linzey writes: "People who keep animals have often made an elementary but profound discovery: animals are not machines or commodities, but beings with their own God-given lives, individuality, and personality. At their best, relationships with companion animals can help us to grow in mutuality, self-giving, and trust." (emphasis mine) He goes on to quote theologian Stephen Webb who sees in these relationships nothing less than the self-giving of God: "animals are more like gifts than something owned, giving us more than we expect and thus obliging us to return their gifts."
I have written here often of the gifts of animal presence in my life. We live in a very anthropocentric world and our churches are no better. We have lost sight of the tremendous gift of wisdom creatures have to offer us, simply by virtue of their "otherness." Animals don't spend their lives, as far as I know, trying to rationalize and think through things, making important plans. Their gifts of instinctual and intuitive being, love, and care invite us into a bigger way of being ourselves.
Ever since Tune (or Petunia as I often call her) arrived in our life, she has become the new Abbess of our Abbey, her job for her retirement years (she spent her life in a breeding kennel). Sometimes she confuses that role with Princess, but mostly she is settling into her new vocation well and reminds me daily of the essential rhythms and needs of the body: Sleep. Stretch. Play. Walk. Nap. Eat. Snuggle. Really, what more can I ask for in my life. I have written before about a Rule of Life, and how this loose structure helps to remind me of what is most foundational in my life and build the rhythms of my day around these primary commitments.
With my recent struggles again with health and my efforts to reclaim the wisdom of my body's limits, I grow in appreciation of the wisdom of my companion animal who guides me in listening for the body's deepest messages and responding with love. She invites me to refine my Rule of Life around this new invitation I have been experiencing to consider honoring my body as my primary vocation.
What practices and gentle structures in your life would help you to honor your body's rhythms more deeply? Are there any creatures in your life to offer wisdom on this path?
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts