Lord Love a Duck!
I have really been looking forward to our Blessing of the Animals at Emmanuel Church today. The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi is one of my very favorite feast days in our church year, not only because I am a well-known animal lover (but yes, of course, that’s a thing), but also because of St. Francis’s teachings and prayers.
St. Francis is remembered to have lived and taught peace and reconciliation, both among human beings and in the natural world — a holistic kind of unity that honors our incarnate world as God’s own creation. Why do we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi with a Blessing of the Animals? St. Francis is remembered for, among other things, his dedication to preaching the gospel. It is said that he preached to the birds of the air, and they listened to him, and that he once convinced a wolf that was terrorizing a village not to hurt people or livestock any more, but to wait peaceably and patiently for the villagers to feed him. The wolf lived out his days, the story goes, cared for and beloved by the villagers.
Our pets bring out our gentlest selves, our tender, patient, loving sides. Their trust, loyalty, and affection reminds us of our very best parts. We come together to notice and bless these holy responses and our relationships with our pets that inspire them, helping us to walk in love in God’s creation. As we read from Job this morning, human beings can learn a lot from animals about connection to God.
Connection to God
With the memory, reason, and skill God has given us, we can convince ourselves that we can somehow out-think our for God — figure it all out for ourselves without the connection to God that comes through connection to each other and to our natural world. We’ve advanced so much with our learning, science, and individual computer capacity — just look at these smart phones we carry in our hands all the time — that it’s easy for us to imagine that we can somehow out-think our need for faith. And yet that confidence in our own reason — I’m talking to myself here — vanishes in those feelings of deep connection to those we love — human, furry, and feathered. These are the feelings we often cannot name, but that cause us to search for a lost kitten, worry and grieve in anticipation of the grief of a sick dog, and melt at the core when we see improbable companionship among animals or children.
Does anyone out there like cat and dog videos on Facebook? Come on, give it up. I’ll ‘fess up — I really believe that Facebook is FOR dog videos and photos of grandchildren, and definitely not — not ever — politics. I can watch these things for hours, and I know I’m always better for it — the kitten that terrifies a brace of Golden Retrievers, the dog that feeds swans in a pond in a park, the fawn and the cow that become best friends. And maybe my favorite — the duck that curls up with the dog it has befriended. My grandmother used to exclaim, in astonishment and amusement at odd things, Lord, love a duck! And I always think of her love for the natural world when I see these wonderful videos.
These connections — and these creatures — are the marvels we read about in Job: God asks Job, Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the deer? Do you know their gestation period like you know the 9 months it took for your own making? Do you know the time when they give birth, when they crouch to give birth to their offspring, and are delivered of their young? No, we have to say, if we’re being candid with ourselves. We aren’t usually tuned into these things. In Mark’s gospel today, Jesus says, I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants. And that is the beauty of this connection that we can see through St. Francis’s holistic theology and love of the natural world.
It’s commonly said that St. Francis sent his brothers out with the instruction to preach the gospel at all times, if necessary using words. While this particular quotation is not actually found among St. Francis’s writings, the idea is still consistent with his commitment to walk in love as Christ loved us. We remember St. Francis’s example today, knowing that we preach the gospel in everything we do, just as much as in what we say. AND we hear and see the gospel preached in the connections we feel to our pets and the blessings they bring us. We bless and give thanks for our pets, who remind us not only of our kinship with all creatures, but of our very best, kindest, and most tender selves as we care for them. We are connected in God — through Jesus, God’s incarnate son — with all of creation. Amen