Thursday, October 11, 2012

Who is Blessing Whom?

Rev. Canon Jan Cope
One of the feast days that I most eagerly anticipate each year is the feast of Francis of Assisi and the attendant Blessing of the Animals. Those who know me even slightly can attest to the fact that I am a world class animal lover, particularly of dogs. While on the surface, the Blessing of the Animals entails prayers, asperging the animals with blessed water, and the usual cacophony and chaos that naturally ensues from a gathering of all sorts of animals and their human companions, there is actually something much more profound going on in those gatherings.

The depth of the love and commitment represented in the gathered group is pure and unadulterated, palpable and unmistakable, and utterly contagious. Whenever I have the great honor to bless the animals, as I did at Washington National Cathedral on Sunday, I get a glimpse of the love of God made manifest in the relationships between our animal friends and their human companions. As I moved Sunday from dog to dog and cat to cat, I heard their collective stories: "my dog has cancer will you pray for him"; "my dog has a heart condition and I'm so scared"; "my cat is really old, but she's still going strong"; "I love our rescue dog— she just has three legs, but she's a sweetie"; "these are the dog collars of our dogs who are no longer with us, but we love our puppy and want you to bless her"; "my dog is going to have cataract surgery next week, so I didn't bring her, but will you bless her through this picture"; "I like to bring Morty (adorned in tallit and kippah) as a representative of the Jewish tradition". And so it to dog and cat to cat. By the end of the Blessing of the Animals, I have hugged as many humans as dogs and cats, and I have prayed for and with as many humans as dogs and cats...and I am happily drenched with the water I have been asperging in the name of God and the tears of joy from the utter privilege of being a part of the great love fest known as the Blessing of the Animals.

I also leave those gatherings wondering what it would look like if we embodied the same depth of love and commitment, one to another. How would that unbridled expression of the love of God affect a hurting and suffering world? We have much to learn from our animal friends.

I am dog. I believe in unconditional love. I do not settle for infatuations or puppy love. I believe in true love to the end. I am a life-long lover who will lie at your feet, on the bed, in your chair, at your side. I am dog. I insist on your love. I will stay on a grave of a lover until my end. I believe in commitment. When we have chosen each other, I will be there for you, with plenty. Out of my heart flows life and love. You fill my life with abundance and I am fulfilled. Unconditional love is the highest gift. I am committed to love.

(from Dog Psalms: Prayers My Dogs Have Taught Me, by Herbert Brokering)

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