This is a meditation I delivered at the inauguration of a monthly dog-friendly service at my internship site. We call it “Dog Lovers’ Devotions.” Or, “Devotions for the Dog Lover’s Soul.” Or, “Come. Sit. Stay.” Okay, fine, we don’t really have a firm name yet, but by gum, we’s got dogs.
Scripture reading: Genesis 1:20-28
And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
A month ago, I got to do perhaps my favorite thing I’ve done so far as the intern here. I got the lead the Blessing of the Animals service.
This is one of my favorite church services of the year, mostly because I have a special place in my heart for a little chaos in our worship. After all, it’s out of chaos that God creates. I figure it’s totally appropriate to celebrate a liturgy where there’s just no possible way to predict what will happen; where dogs start barking in the middle of solemn prayers; where cats escape and end up hissing in the bathroom sink; where birds squawk loudly during moments of silence; where instead of neatly filled rows, there’s a noticeable island surrounding the person who brought the tarantula. In my experience of life, it’s in just those places, where nothing’s going quite as expected—that God just loves to show up.
Are you nodding along to that? Have you ever had a moment where you thought you knew what was going on, you thought you knew what direction your life was taking, you had a plan…and then suddenly, things just aren’t going according to it? But somehow, even in the midst of the confusion and frustration that comes with ruined plans, God manages to create something even better than you could have imagined?
A ruined plan is how I ended up with my dog, Barnaby. Getting a dog was going to be my reward for trading in an unpredictable lifestyle with lots of travelling for the lifestyle of a seminarian. I was going to rescue a dog. I had this beautiful vision of taking home this introverted, somewhat damaged pooch and bonding with her and nursing back into wholeness, and we would frolic through the fields of Gettysburg together and be oh-so-happy, and (bonus!) I would be the awesome selfless person who rescued a dog.
Well, I found this one rescue organization that I really liked, and lo and behold, they had this dog I really liked, so just a few weeks before I was set to move to seminary, I submitted my application for her.
I was rejected.
They told me that because the seminary wasn’t a permanent address, they wouldn’t let me adopt a dog.
And it was in the depths of frustration and indignation and sadness that I opened the paper and saw an ad for German-Shepherd/Bernese Mtn Dog puppies. I went. I saw. I came home with a new puppy.
And three years after my plan to rescue a dog got ruined, I’ve come to learn that I came at the whole “rescue” thing all wrong. I thought I was going to rescue a dog. Instead, a dog rescued me. He’s rescued me over and over from loneliness, from bad moods, from taking myself too seriously. Barnaby makes me go out when I’d rather stay in; he makes me laugh when I feel like crying. And when I feel like dancing around the house, Barnaby is right there with me.
A few weeks after I led the Blessing of the Animals service, a congregant shared with me the reaction a friend of hers had to the news of this service. “Why would you bless animals?” she asked. “It’s not like they have souls.”
I don’t know whether animals have souls. But I do know that the Blessing of the Animals is something that God started, right here in Genesis: “God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Even on days when I question that whole “have dominion” thing (usually when I’m fighting with Barnaby over who has dominion over the couch), my life with Barnaby attests to the fact that God is still blessing the animals, and blessing us through them. Thanks be to God.