I wrote a few days ago about discovering the theologian Andrew Linzey in an article I was reading. I was so thrilled to discover someone writing seriously about the place of animals in Christian tradition and spiritual practice that I ordered three of his books:
The last of these three contains liturgies for celebrating creatures, healing of animals, a covenanting service with animals, a Eucharistic prayer for all creatures, a vigil for the suffering of all creatures, litanies for animal protection, blessings, burial services and memorials. I am moved beyond words at the work this man has done to bring creatures back to the heart of our spiritual journey and practice. In the introduction he quotes a prayer from St. Basil (Eastern church, 4th century) in which he entreats God to:
enlarge within us the sense of
fellowship with all living things,
our brothers the animals to whom you
gave the earth as their home in
common with us.
We remember with shame that in the past
we have exercised the high dominion
of humans with ruthless cruelty
so that the voice of the earth
which should have gone up to you
in song, has been a groan of travail.
May we realize that they live not for
us alone but for themselves and for
you, and that they love the sweetness of life.
He also quotes St. Isaac the Syrian, who was a contemporary of St. Basil:
It is a heart which is burning with love for the whole of creation. . . (Someone) who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without (their) eyes being filled with tears by reason of the immense compassion which seizes (their) heart; a heart which is softened and can no longer bear to see or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain, being inflicted on a creature.
I am deeply moved by these prayers and especially by his service of covenanting with a companion animal. He says that it is not “our” covenant, but God’s. We do not create this relationship, “rather we find ourselves placed in such by the Creator” (57). The purpose of the covenanting liturgy is to name our responsibility for the creature in our care, encourage right relationship, and point us to their theological significance — as living examples of divine grace. Imagine if our churches implemented these liturgies and helped people to honor the animal connections in their lives as part of the sacred web of their lives. The service includes many beautiful biblically-based prayers and ends with a lovely expression of vows:
I, Christine, will care for Tune (Petunia) as God’s own creature.
I will be mindful of her Christ-like vulnerability.
I will love and protect her as long as she lives.
I will be faithful and kind in both good times and bad.
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts