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Christians Against All Animal Abuse
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From the Christmas 2006 Issue

Knowing The Way Home
by the Reverend Anthony Lang of New South Wales

A few days ago, when I was telling someone about this morning’s special pet blessing service, he looked at me strangely and asked, “Um, you are not going a little odd, are you, Tony?” I told him I didn’t think so… well, no odder than usual anyway! I am sure that my friend’s response is the response of many people, at least here in Australia, where pet blessing services are virtually unheard of. They are not so uncommon in Europe, where they are held, usually on the nearest Sunday to the fourth of October, which is St Francis of Assisi Day.

We may well ask, then, apart from the lovely example of St Francis, what justification do we have for holding a pet blessing service? Should pets be blessed? For an authoritative answer, all we have to do is turn to Scripture, and to the ancient Book of Genesis, the first Book in the Bible. There, in chapter one, from verse 20 on, we read that God blessed the creatures He had made, and saw that what He had done was good. Note this: He did not merely create them – He blessed them.

Later, in verse twenty-eight, the sixth day, He created mankind, male and female, and blessed them, using almost exactly the same words that were used to bless the other living creatures. The only difference is that mankind was given dominion over all other living creatures… not to do with as we will, but rather as stewards of what has been entrusted to us. The blessing of God extends beyond man to the whole of God’s living creatures. In holding a blessing service for our pets, we acknowledge, first, that God created and blessed them, second, that God is pleased when we care for what He has made, which He loves, and third, that God has given us a special responsibility of care.

For all those reasons it is appropriate to bless what God saw to be good, and blessed
.
All of us who love our pets probably have a wealth of stories to tell, of our pets’ love, intelligence, faithfulness. There is a delightful book called “Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover’s Soul” in which there are dozens of accounts, in nine memorable chapters, of animal tales: animals as helpers, friends, healers and teachers. I recall someone telling me recently of a couple who had an elderly dog that sleeps on a mat beside their bed. As the dog grew older, it started to snore. On one particular evening, the husband was out at a reunion. His wife found it hard to sleep that night, for the dog’s snoring was particularly heavy.

Finally, in desperation, she got out of bed, rummaged through a drawer and found a big blue ribbon, and tied the sleeping dog’s jaw shut - and wonder of wonders – the snoring ceased!

Considerably later, her husband rolled in, much the worse for wear, fell on the bed on his back and commenced snoring heavily, mouth hanging open. His wife could stand it no longer. She went to the drawer, found another ribbon, which happened to be red, and tied her husband’s jaw shut. Again, the result was amazing – the snoring stopped! In the morning, the husband got up and saw himself in the mirror with the big red ribbon still attached. He took it off and glanced at the still sleeping dog, still wearing the big blue ribbon. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know what you and I got up to last night, dog – but we sure did OK. You got first prize and I got second!

When it comes to unconditional love and faithfulness, bringing us comfort in times of sorrow, pleasure and peace of mind in our daily lives, our pets frequently take out first prize. They get the blue ribbon. It is now a well-known fact that pet owners usually have lower blood pressure than non-pet owners, and their value is well known and well documented in nursing homes, where they are considered wonderful assets, bringing joy and pleasure to the patients. Yes, the Lord certainly knew what He was doing when He gave us pets!

Let us not forget, however, that our pets can know fear and pain and sorrow. They grieve, they fret. Knowing our pets, seeing their needs and understanding their language when they “speak” to us, can increase our sensitivity, our compassion. At one time, it was believed that animals had no real intelligence, that their responses were simply instinctive. The lie has been given to that theory time and time again.

We know how truly intelligent are guide dogs, but it is a fact that intelligence, and an ability to think, are documented in all sorts of creatures.

Be amazed at the astonishing homing abilities of all sorts of creatures’… birds that criss-cross the planet, fish that find their way to homes they have never seen. Science often has no explanation but hazards guesses that may or may not be correct. When we get to know the wild creatures, we discover that they have personalities. There was a young magpie in a former parish that often visited our garden. I fed him occasionally with some bread or meat, which I threw to him. He made it plain that when I threw it, he wanted to catch it in mid-air. He became so excited, running almost to my feet. He was actually playing with me, as in a game. It would be an appalling world, if God had not blessed us with these wonderful friends who share our world. God has blessed us. He blessed them, and it is fitting that we bless them too.

There is a chapter in the book, “Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover’s Soul” called “Saying Goodbye” which contains some of the sad stories. We all dread that time when the pets we’ve loved, and who love us, die. It’s a heart-rendingly painful time. Many’s the time I’ve heard people ask, and I have wondered myself, “What happens to them? Do they go to heaven? Will I ever see again this one that I loved so dearly?” Here, of course, we are sailing into completely uncharted waters. No one knows what heaven is really like. There are only brief glimpses of it in the Bible, and none of them mentions animals. The official position of the mainstream church seems to be a belief that animals don’t have souls and therefore don’t go to heaven. I can’t agree. In Genesis chapter one, verse thirty, there is a reference to every creature having “the breath of life” (RSV). The Hebrew word used for “breath of life” is “Nephesh” – which can also mean “soul.” The Jewish people believe animals have a soul. What we call heaven they call “The New Eden”; a blessed time to come when God will redeem the whole earth. They point to the wonderful vision of the prophet Isaiah, looking forward to the redemption of the world, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy Mountain”, the prophecy, continues, “and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9).

When we turn to the New Testament, the evidence is more elusive, but there are tantalizing glimpses. On three separate occasions, we find in the New Testament mention of the word “paradise.” Jesus told the thief beside Him on the cross, “Today, you shall be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Paul uses the same word in 2 Cor 12:4, and John in the Book of Revelation 2:7. The literal translation of the word “paradise” is a “walled garden.” Can you imagine a garden without trees, flowers, birds and animals? I certainly can’t. Here again, we just may be given a tiny glimpse into what heaven may be like.

I grew up on a farm. When I was very young, during the war, when there was very little petrol to be had, I would watch my father ploughing, behind by two magnificent Clydesdale horses, Annie and Tom. They were beautiful creatures and they loved each other. We also had another horse called Fizzer, who used to pull our sulky. One day my mother took my young brother and me in the sulky, visiting a neighbouring family on another farm. It was dark when we left for home, and my mother soon became hopelessly lost. It was pitch black, not a farmhouse light in sight, dead flat country, side roads snaking off here and there into the darkness, no way of knowing where we were. Finally my mother gave Fizzer his head, which means she simply let the reins go. Fizzer, who by that time was thoroughly disgusted with all the to-ing and fro-ing, set off at a fast trot, and took us straight home without one wrong turn!

When I recall that experience, I often recall the words of our text: Cattle know who owns them, and donkeys know where their master feeds them, but that is more than my people Israel know. They don’t understand at all.” Isaiah was speaking to Israel early in the 8th century BC, at a time when things were bad, and faith was at low ebb. Many had no faith. Today, as then, there are many who have no faith. They don’t understand. They don’t know the way home. There are many ways by which faith may come to us, such as through God’s Word, and the action of the Holy Spirit. Another way is to open our eyes, and see, in this wonderful world, and in the awesome harmony of the universe, the hand of the One Who created and blessed His creatures, Who calls us to share eternity in heaven with Him. Although the way is not always clear, and sometimes may even be dark, as it was that night for old Fizzer, may we take the road that leads to our eternal home.

Go on to ‘At The Cross, At The Cross Where I First Saw The Light’!
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