I love animals. A lot. And sometimes I wonder if folks think that I’m exaggerating when I go all “IT’S SO FLUFFY I COULD DIE!” but it couldn’t be more genuine–I *love* animals.
And Ben and I have been blessed to be the caretakers of some great ones. Our dogs Bo and Ollie are two of the most caring canines I’ve ever had the joy of meeting, and our bunny Luna is so chill it’s contagious. It’s nearly impossible to be around these loveable furballs and not feel a little more grounded, a little more cared for, a little more relaxed. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit works through these guys to show us love and wholeness and a glimpse into the Holy One’s perfect kingdom.
And that’s not even mentioning our chickens! Four roosters and seven hens that we raised from a couple-days-old chickies, that happily cluck when we greet them in the morning and delightfully provide us with beautiful brown speckled eggs. What a gift! What an honor! That these little feathered raptors that we try to nurture so well offer up their own eggs to our family (and others) that in turn nurture us.
I am constantly amazed by the animals we live among. And tonight at our second annual Blessing of the Animals that three of the congregations we serve hosted, we were able to celebrate many more of the animals that bring joy in our community. Dogs, a horse, hermit crabs, and even some cats– all providing joy and sharing their love (or for some cats, sharing the high privilege of their presence). And among our worshippers were also those for whom animals are their livelihood, from cows to pigs and more. All of these animals offer more to use than we can truly ever give proper thanks for, but tonight we certainly tried.
God created the world–land, sea, plants, and animals– and it was good. Not “meh”, not just there taking up space that could be used in a better way, but purposeful, beautiful, good. And yet what I find even more remarkable about this good Creation is that God would allow humanity to care for it!
Oh that it is not just a personal inclination but a calling from the Creator that I have the privilege of caring for a small plot of God’s Creation!
The sad, truly painful reality is that I’m not always good at it, and neither is the rest of the world. Recycling is still seen in some parts as a “hippie-esque” pastime and is not worthy of public funding; animals are constantly being rescued from breeders who are more interested in profit than healthy living conditions; and to say that we take this earth, the very water we drink and soil we grow our crops on, for granted is an embarrassingly gross understatement. The Sin that breaks humanity pushes those same splinters into the rest of the Creation we live among.
But thanks be to God that God has not abandoned that Creation, and that God is constantly working through us to make all things new. Though I may often see evidence otherwise when I see the beautiful mountain tops of home carved and carted away, or when I see that there are literally thousands of animals needing to be adopted and I can only afford and fit so many into our yard, the Divine Creator has a way of sending reminders of how our stewardship of the Creation should be and will be.
As it goes, we are often shown this Light through those younger than us, those who have not been quite as numbed to the amazing privilege of being among that which God has created, redeemed and sustained, those who can stand in awe of something as simple as a praying mantis.
You see, as we were setting up for worship tonight in the field next to the parking lot, I happened to spot a praying mantis on the pavement. There have been a ton this year (one might say a “plague ton”), but having not seen as many growing up I still find myself intrigued by these oddly elegant bugs. I called to two of the kids who had arrived early to check out the tiny traveler, but didn’t think much of it. As I said, there have been a ton this year.
But these two kids saw something I, the animal lover than I am, failed to comprehend. You see, this praying mantis was not just another bug in a parking lot, but a precious part of God’s Creation that was currently at risk for being squashed by a much larger car-shaped predator.
So per the kid’s request we found a stick and they were going to move the praying mantis to a safer location (which I assumed would actually be much closer to a slightly smaller but equally deadly chicken-shaped predator).
But the younger brother had other plans. This praying mantis was no longer a random stranger along the road but his newest charge. Not only was he going to save this praying mantis from being run over, but he was going to bring it to worship because it too was worthy of being blessed. It was, after all, part of God’s Creation and therefore it was good.
And so he carried this praying mantis, his praying mantis, around on a stick showing his new buddy to everyone who would stop and look.
But the stewardship this little guy demonstrated went beyond merely possessing a praying mantis. It extended to a level of care that flowed from the Holy Spirit, a level of care I believe all of us are called to.
Because my little brother in Christ was both in love with his pet bug and absolutely terrified of it at the same time. I mean, the look of terror on his face when the praying mantis hopped off the stick and onto his arm was palpable. And yet he kept on carrying that mantis. When it fell off the stick he would patiently wait for it to realize its folly and climb back on. When it inevitably started to climb back onto his arm or shirt he would run (again, with the utmost horror) to the safety of his mom who would patiently remove the praying mantis from her little mantis steward and put it back on the stick. It was a beautiful cycle of caretaking because it encompassed the joy and sacrifice of what we are called to as stewards of God’s Creation.
The mantis was blessed and the mantis blessed. And before our young friend left he brought the praying mantis over to our garden and let him find refuge on a cucumber vine, leaving behind the stick that had been his temporary home and salvation, as well as instructions for his Pastor Ben on proper praying mantis care.
Every day we see tons of living things: trees, dandilions, squirrels, birds, rabbits, and maybe even a cow or two (JK, like a bajillion, we’re in Nebraska), and every day we are stirred to remember what they really are: gifts from God that we are given to both enjoy AND take care of. Because at the end of the day, they aren’t ours to possess, but instead God’s that we are honored to care for. Even the cats. Even the bugs.
And that sounds good to me.
I’m constantly thinking about God’s love for the Divine Creation and my place in and among it. And I can’t help but think that