Good News For Animals?

Added about 3 months ago by Rob Kelsey

GUEST BLOG: As part of our August #ThemeOfTheMonth Rob Kelsey author of Praying for the Earth muses on the place of animals in God’s kingdom and invites us to reflect upon Christians’ responsibility to care for the smallest and most vulnerable of God’s creations.

Our church building contains 186 images of animals in its fixtures and fittings – in stained-glass windows, on kneelers, etc.  It was with this in mind that, a few years ago, in a meeting of our First Sunday Worship planning group, I suggested that the theme of our next service could be something to do with animals. The lay members of the group were supportive, but a retired priest was opposed. He said that the Good News of the Christian faith is for human beings only, and that the animal kingdom is not part of God’s plan of salvation. I was taken aback and thought, ‘Your God is too small!’

Human beings have a tendency to be self-centred, and the Christian religion has a tendency to be human-centred, or anthropocentric.  We are inclined to think that the Christian faith, and God’s plan of salvation, is ‘all about us’. This silo mentality has, arguably, not been helped by Christian exceptionalism, and an individualistic emphasis on a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’.  Just as Christianity’s neglect of the natural world has not been helped by the Platonic worldview, whereby ‘spiritual is good, and physical is bad’, which has led to a false dichotomy between heaven and earth.

Many Christians down the ages have, however, seen the bigger picture. In the 4th century, Basil the Great prayed, ‘O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, … to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.  May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee’ (The SPCK Book of Christian Prayer). And, in the 16th century, Martin Luther said that, ‘God is substantially present everywhere, in and through all creatures, in all their parts and places so that the world is full of God and he fills all’ (Sustaining the Earth by Tim Cooper).

Personally, I have always found it difficult to walk past a worm or a slug that’s struggling to survive on the beaten path, without stooping down to save it (though preferably while no one else is watching!). When my son was younger, he innocently asked his Grandma if, whenever a policeman found a worm on the pavement, he would pick it up and put it on the grass. She replied, with a straight face, that she was sure that he would.

This may sound very whimsical, but I think it reveals a deeper truth about our kinship with all God’s creatures, and the importance of compassion for those (human beings included) that are weak and vulnerable. I don’t think Jesus was being whimsical when he said, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father’ (Matt 10.29). And I don’t think Jesus was being whimsical when he told the parable of the lost sheep, within the context of God’s care for ‘the little ones’ (Matt 18.10‑14). The Greek word mikron (‘little ones’) fairly obviously refers, in this instance, to children, but it is their ‘littleness’ that is in view.

There is an old children’s hymn by E. J. Brailsford (1841-1921), which is rarely sung these days (though I’m not sure why). It begins and ends with the following verses:

All things which live below the sky,
Or move within the sea,
Are creatures of the Lord most high,
And brothers unto me.

Almighty Father, King of Kings,
The lover of the meek,
Make me a friend of helpless things,
Defender of the weak.

Over the past few years, I have taken part in several Dog Blessing Services, and have found that part of the service very moving, where I invite people to put their hands on the dogs that they love, and look at them, while they repeat after me, line by line, the following prayer of blessing:

Fellow creature,
friend and companion;
may God your Creator and preserver
bless, defend, and keep you
this day and for ever.
Amen.

- Animal Rites, Andrew Linzey

Is this whimsical?  It could be.  Might it be a displacement activity, which prevents us from attending to the needs of our fellow human beings? It might be. But it also provides the opportunity, I think, for people (even those who don’t normally go to church) to realise within themselves God’s loving concern for all his creatures, and to appreciate our responsibility to care for God’s ‘little ones’, both human and animal.

 


 

​Rob Kelsey has been a priest in the Church of England for over twenty years. He was the first Environment Officer in the Diocese of Newcastle, and formed a task group to promote environmental concern within the diocese. His book Praying for the Earth: Remembering the Environment in our Prayers of Intercession is being featured as part of our August #ThemeOfTheMonth: Climate & Environment— get your copy here


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