Love Has No Limits

You know that I am starting to recover from my cough and feeling more relaxed when I put up 2 blog posts in one day.  However I could not resist this heartwarming clip A Lion Called Christian. It brought tears to my eyes (maybe partly because I am missing our dog Bonnie who will give us a similarly warm welcome when we get back to Seattle).

More than that it reminded me of the unconditional love of God who never forgets us and welcomes us with unconditional and exuberant love wherever we are and whenever we turn towards him.


Pet Ownership as Spiritual Practice

The following post in the series What Is A Spiritual Practice was written by Jamie Arpin-Ricci Jamie is an urban missionary, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg’s inner city West End neighbourhood.  He is founding co-director of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Urban Ministries Winnipeg with his Australian wife Kim.  He is also planting/pastoring Little Flowers Community. Jamie and Kim are in the midst of adopting their first child from Ethiopia.


Pet blessing St Albans Episcopal edmonds

Pet blessing St Albans Episcopal edmonds

Every year on October 4th a strange phenomenon occurs.  Many people bring their pets to church for a blessing, often including some livestock in rural areas.  The Blessing of Pets is a tradition practice on that date as it is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment.  Known for his love of all animals, Francis was know to both preach to birds and tame murderous wolves.  And so, to honour this, people bring in their furry and feathered friends for a special blessings.  While this practice is a tad much for me, I am not at all surprised that it exists.  The bond that forms between people and animals, especially pets, is remarkable.  We may criticize the over pampering folly of a culture that has produced a ‘pet obesity “crisis”- and rightfully so- but we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the genuine connection between people and their pets.

My wife and I are the proud caregivers to a feisty Jack Russell Terrier named Dino, a dog rescued from an abusive home.  It took a great deal of time, patience and compassion to nurture this wounded pup into the over-confident “cannon ball with a tongue” that he is today.  We originally got Dino for security purposes, advised that a small dog with a big bark reduces break ins (and it has worked very well).  However, the unexpected benefits of having this pet are many.  I have discovered that having a pet can truly be a spiritual practice.  Now you will notice that I said “can be”.  This isn’t the default result of owning a pet.  Like any spiritual practice, it takes intentionality and discipline to experience this, but it is very possible.  Every pet is unique and, therefore, so will the nature of the experience you might have.  The following are examples from our life.

Rescuing Dino from a bad home meant we were committing to caring for a dog who would need a lot of grace and patience.  He would pee everywhere, hid under the bed for hours and flinch at any fast movement.  Further, despite every sacrifice we made on his behalf, he had no way to really expressing his gratitude.  It was in his vulnerability and dependency on us that we began to see our own heart- our impatience, greed, anger and much more.  He helped expose in our hearts those weaknesses of character that may stay hidden in the company of others.

The first day we walked Dino through our neighbourhood we met more of neighbours than we had in months prior- and not for lack of trying!  People would come out of their houses and yards to pet him, ask questions about him, speculate on his breeding and chat about their own pets, both past and present.  Animal, again being the vulnerable and dependent creatures that they are, seem to provide a key into the hearts of people.  Age, race, gender and religion were momentarily forgotten as we all lowered ourselves to pet this dog.  In fact, while petting, I realized that this was one of the only places I saw strangers unintentionally touch hands without any sense of awkwardness.  We were all innocent children in that brief moment.

As a kid it was not uncommon to hear one of my friends ask in Sunday School: “What happens to our pets when they die?  Will they go to heaven?”.  Generally, the answers were either the frank, “Only living things with souls go to heaven and only people have souls” or the unsophisticated comfort of “Of course they will go to heaven!  You will see them someday!”.  As I reflect back on that now I see how the very question was born out of a shallow, almost gnostic paradigm of the afterlife: disembodied, individual souls saved from hell.  Now, as I consider a view of God’s redemptive plan for all Creation, I see pets (and all animals) as beautiful aspects of God’s hands who are (and always were) meant to share in the story of God forever.

St. Francis was known for calling things around him brother and sister, be it a bird, a rock or even the sun and moon.  While often caricatured as nothing more than a hippy idiosyncrasy, it in fact reflected a very sophisticated understanding and appreciate for God’s creation.  While he would never have equated the value of a bird with that of a person, Francis saw the hand of a Creative and Loving God on every part of Creation, created by the same Father that formed us.  And so he embraced all of Creation as brothers and sisters under God.

While pet blessings might go a bit far, and while I am not advocating the veneration of Creation, I would encourage you to consider your pets in light of God’s sacred intention for all Creation.  Take the time to foster the spiritual practice of caring for the animals in your world.

“If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life.” -Albert Schweitzer

God of the Impossible

A couple of days ago I was sitting watching the humming birds at our backyard feeder.  They are the most amazing creatures whose very nature defies our understanding of the laws we think govern all of life.  I am constantly in awe of their remarkable lives whose very existence reminds us that our God is a god of the impossible.  Their wings beat at anything from 10 – 80 times a second, their heart rates can be as high as 1200 per minute.  They must feed every ten minutes or so and yet many species migrate thousands of miles each year.

For example,  most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter between southern Mexico and northern Panama. They begin moving north as early as January, and by the end of February are at the northern coast of Yucatan, gorging on insects and spiders to add a thick layer of fat in preparation for flying to the U.S. Most apparently cross the Gulf, typically leaving at dusk for a nonstop flight of up to 500 miles, which takes 18-22 hours depending on the weather. Before departing, each bird will have nearly doubled its weight, from about 3.25 grams to over 6 grams; when it reaches the U.S. Gulf coast, it may weigh only 2.5 grams. research suggests that many of them will return to the same backyard on exactly the same day each year.  

Impossible you might think but why should any of this surprise us?  I think that God delights in doing the impossible and loves to remind us of this in the creatures he created.  After all it is not only the humming bird that defies our understanding.  Bumble bees should not be able to fly according to the laws of aerodynamics.  And that my golden retriever has a nose up to 30,000 times more sensitive than mine is truly remarkable.  

All of this should give us hope – the God who delights in creating impossible creatures also delights in creating the impossible within and through our lives.  Think of those that God has used to change history – a disgruntled tribe of slaves that fled from Egypt into the desert, a rag tag team of disciples that ran away when Jesus was crucified, a very strange and eccentric young man called Francis of Assisi, the mystic Madame Guyon who deserted her family to become a nun.   That God could use any of them seems impossible, just as it seems impossible that God could use my life to make a difference in this world.  Yet I have had the privilege of touching the lives of thousands.  

God’s people are truly impossible people.  Without God we can do nothing.  With God we can do anything God asks of us and that is more miraculous than any of the amazing creatures that fill our planet.

The Healing Power of Pets

Did you know that having a cat around the house can cut the risk of heart attack by almost 50% and that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol? Those of us who are animal lovers have known for a long time that animals buffer us against stress and anxiety – it is just good to hear that science has finally caught up with us and “proved it”. All this from a recent article in Alternet which quotes a recent study by the University of Minnesota. Interestingly kids who have pets when they are young are less likely to get allergies too. Pets are now not just being used by the blind and disabled to act as eyes, ears and (in the case of diabetics) glucose monitors. They are also being used as therapy in hospitals and hospice care centres. Pets as Therapy is one organization that provides this service. They are not just good for preventing strokes and heart attacks but often assist in people’s recovery after these illnesses.

We have several people at our church that train service dogs. I particularly love to see them wagging their tails up at the altar rail for communion. Once a year we do a dog blessing before the dogs are sent out to their service assignments. I think this is a wonderful ministry – another one of God’s hidden mustard seeds. Imagine how many people a ministry like this must bless.

So my recommendation for the day – go out and pet your dog or cat – and if you don’t have one of your own borrow your neighbour’s.