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Rule of Life at the Abbey

TuneI 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

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19 Responses

  1. Bette, this photo and the one of her on the “About” page are my two favorites. I have a confession to make though, the reason she is looking up with such longing is that my husband was holding a treat up for her so I could take the photo of her in this perfect shaft of light. The joy of a dog upon our return has to be one of the great gifts of life.

    Kayce, it was so lovely to spend time with you yesterday, sharing tea and having you meet Tune. Yes, there is definitely a mutual gifting between us that I am in awe of. You are welcome back to the Abbey anytime. :-)

    Blessings, peace, and love, Christine

  2. christine–
    i feel so honored to have been in the presence of precious Tune. her actions speak so loudly of her trust and care for you. there is wisdom in her sweet face and it is apparent that you are both learning much from each other. thank you for the tea and conversation and thank you for continuing to share yourself with others in the midst of caring gently for yourself.
    blessings – k

  3. Christine,
    This photo of Petunia is beyond-words-Precious. I think she is looking up at her God. She has a look of humbleness, contentedness, and reverence. Our Westie-Poo, Bailey has such a look but it might be more of the need for a snack :) We were just talking the other day here at home how Bailey is soooooo happy to see us when we come home and how she perks up and says such cute things in her doggie-way.

  4. How wonderful to hear from all of these animal lovers!

    Milton, your response of “Because love lives here” really touched me and really sums it all up well.

    Zorra, yes the absolute presence of a dog to whatever it is doing is a marvelous thing to watch and learn.

    Songbird, Tune has a pretty big commitment to napping which is good for me! Cats are wonderful teachers as well.

    Owen, thank you for sharing the beautiful prayer, not the kind of prayer you often find.

    Cathleen, I love to hear that your sweet cat is offering you gifts in these hard days, I find animals to be incredibly intuitive about these kinds of things.

    Jennifer, you’ll have to come over and meet Tune, maybe one day before a dream group, although she is very shy at first. I hope you find just the right dog this time. I am delighted about Bloglines too! It only took 5-6 persistent emails to get them to fix the problem. :-)

    Blessings to you all, Christine

  5. hi dear c,
    waiting again for the right dog companion to come into our lives (say…is that I hear calling my name???).
    Glad to see you come up on Bloglines today!

  6. Even before I read this post I had noticed that in these past few days Britta the kitty has been coming to me, just to snuggle and be loved and to love. I’m coming to see her visits as gifts of assurance and love, unconditionally, especially in these hard days. So your post confirms what I was beginning to intuit ~ I like this confirmations in black and white with words!
    What a wonderful photo of your Abbess! She has taken on her role with dignity and pride. How fortunate for you and for her! Blessings!

  7. She’s beautiful. Looks something like our dear German Short-haired Pointer. He’s the gentle giant who reminds me often of the grace of the enjoyment of simple things.

    At the bookstore I was sorting prayer cards and came across this one only Tuesday:

    “In your infinite wisdom, Lord God, when You created the universe you blessed us with all living creatures. We especially thank you for giving us our pets who are our friends and who bring us so much joy in life. Their presence very often helps us get through trying times. Kindly bless my pet. May my pet continue giving me joy and remind me of Your power.

    May we realize that as our pets trust us to take care of them, so we should trust You to take care of us, and in taking care of them we share in Your love for all Your creatures. Enlighten our minds to preserve all endangered species so that we may continue to appreciate all of your creations.

    Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

  8. Sleep is something I could learn from my dogs, but even more so from my cats. The cats get away from the world and find the quietest places in the house, curl up in a ball and sleep. I admire their commitment to napping!

  9. When I was sick in bed for several days last week, Amie never left the bedroom unless I did. Whenever I got up and went to another room, she followed me. Australian cattle dogs are devoted to their “herd”, and her watchful loving care was very comforting to me.

    I wish I could live in the moment the way a dog does. The food, the walk, the roll in the yard, the UPS truck out front–in that moment, nothing else matters.

  10. Lola and Gracie are our two miniature Schnauzers. Lola is our “little tub o’ love” whose affection for and devotion to us runs deep to her core, even though she is not too much for other people. Gracie is an eternal puppy who incarnates her name with whole-hearted abandon. One of our rituals is for Ginger to ask why our house is strewn with toys so I can answer, “Because Love lives here.”