of the Animals:
Long before global
warming got our attention the ancient Psalmists knew of the interdependence of
all things. They knew everything
existed in relationship to everything else.
They knew trees are homes for birds.
They knew high mountains are for wild goats and rocks for badgers. The
Psalmists knew the Leviathan, the great sea monster was made to play in the
waters and make God laugh. These
poets of faith knew wisdom created these creatures and that they are, as St.
Francis knew, our brothers and sisters.
Now we will make only
slight mention of the fact that none of the 150 Psalms names the warthog.
Whiskers and all, it is left out. Just
an oversight, I’m sure, or more likely, the Psalmist had never laid eyes one.
But late Chicoan, Paul Feldhaus made up for the oversight. I
was gifted this week with postcards of a Feldhaus warthog and then pointed in
the direction of the
How about you?
What catches your fancy? What causes wonderment to burst out with
abandon? We are created in the image
of God who delights in creation, so if we are attentive to our God-given image,
we too have this capacity to take delight. God,
Psalm 104 tells us, took playful delight in Leviathan, the great sea monster –
a.k.a. the whale.
The late animal
enthusiast, Steve Irwin, was head over heals about crocodiles. Perhaps
you saw the cartoons in the papers on the day of his funeral.
Thousands grieved Irwin’s unexpected death, including (the cartoons
showed) the crocodiles. Theirs were
“real crocodile tears.” There
was also a cartoon of a little sting ray (supposedly the one who stung Irwin)
who said with tears in its eyes, “I’m sorry, Steve, I didn’t know it was
Steve celebrated creation
and worked to reverse the endangerment of species by helping us treasure what,
if we do not treasure, we will destroy. Stopping
to smell the roses is a way of treasuring – the act of slowing down to notice.
Alice Walker’s The Color Purple notes God’s disappointment when we walk by fields
of purple flowers and don’t respond.
Psalm 104 exudes with
response: Bless the Lord, O my soul. O
LORD, you are very great, followed by verses celebrating God’s greatness.
I asked participants in our “Celebration Bible Study” to create their
own psalm. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O LORD, you are very great” to which they added “you have given
us families.” Several gave thanks
for grandchildren. One pointed to
the great variety in creation. Another
wanted to name not just small animals but also the large ones.
This could be a good
dinner-time activity. Write your own
psalm praising God for what you rejoice in.
I bet trees will be mentioned as we watch them turn to gold, but what
about the crows? It seems Vincent
Van Gogh might have put crows on his list. He found them portrait worthy, as
Feldhaus did with the warthog. What
How about bugs – more
properly called insects – perhaps some of God’s more devalued creatures?
Entomologists find them fascinating.
But this morning we’re not primarily attending to entomology or zoology
or biology, but rather to theology. As
people of faith we believe all of creation belongs to God; was called into being
by God; and exists only by the breath given it by God.
The early Psalmists knew this and were lost in wonder, love and praise.
We know this, but still our environment has taken a beating from our
neglect and our misinterpretation of Genesis 1.
How timely it was to find
in the Lutheran Magazine that arrived this week an article called Bless
All the Animals. It quotes
today’s Genesis reading about humans having dominion over all living
creatures. The Lutheran admits that “dominion has often been interpreted as
license to do whatever we want with the created world.”
How lovely also to run
across 18th century poet Robert Burns’ Ode To a Mouse. Burns is
painfully correct when he writes,
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
Robert Burns’ apology
to the mouse is acknowledgement that our abuse of dominion has broken a kind of
sacred trust. Dominion is to
recognize, as good shepherds recognize, that the welfare of the sheep is
connected to the welfare of the shepherd. Dominion
doesn’t mean to dominate, but to protect with care regarding what the life God
But beyond the
relationship of give and receive that we have with creation, with us so often on
the receiving end, there is also the relationship of wonderment. Martin
Luther wrote in his commentary on Genesis 1: “Nothing
– even raising the dead – is comparable to the wonderful work of producing a
bird. . . We do not wonder at these
things, because through our daily association with them we have lost our
wonderment. But if anyone regards
them more attentively, he is compelled to wonder and his wonderment gradually
strengthens his faith.” (LW.
Vol. 1. p. 49)
The book of Psalms ends
with this proclamation: “Let
everything that breathes praise the Lord.”
The Psalmist is suggesting that the proper goal of every creature is
praise. Theologian James Mays puts
it this way, “No other use of breath could be more right and true to life than
praise of the Lord. No other sound
could better speak the gratitude of life than praise of God.” (NIB, p. 1279)
Walter Bruggemann in his
book Israel’s Praise suggests
something I find worthy of further reflection.
He suggests that the true task of ministry is “to convene, evoke, form,
and re-form a community of praise and obedience.” Focusing
on worship he says what is underway here is the “formation of an alternative
community formed in praise.”
Part of the impetus for a
day given to the blessing of animals is the task of evoking praise for God’s
amazing creation and our calling to care in relationship to it – even on down
to the lowly mouse. If our hearts
are awake to God the Creator, whose handiwork we can see, might we be able to
draw from that bounty connecting points with God’s interactive presence in all
things: in life and in death; in joys and in sorrows; in care for the poor and
in the transformation of systems and practices and organizations.
Wonder restores us to
praise just as praise restores us to wonder.
Which comes first? To keep
with the animal theme, we might ask is it the chicken or the egg?
It is easy to wonder at creation because it is so awesome, but we
have to notice it to wonder. We have
to notice the fields of purple. Praise
helps because it calls us to count our blessings.
interconnectedness of the cosmos is beyond our comprehension.
The practice of saying thank you – like in writing our own praise
psalms – opens us to see what we might otherwise miss. I
never thought, for instance, of giving thanks for a cricket until the other day
when one among us in Centering Prayer described how someone made an audio tape
of crickets and then slowed it down to the speed of the human heart.
What they discovered was that crickets slowed down to the beat of our
hearts sounds like a beautiful symphony. Wouldn’t
you love to hear that!
That reminded me of the
rocks I’ve seen cut open and enlarged under microscopes.
They look like magnificent landscapes.
If we open ourselves to the vocation of praise attentiveness is likely to
follow for a vocation to praise requires us to ask ourselves: “what might I
give thanks for today?” Praise
leads to wonder even as wonder leads to praise.
It is a healthy circle.
Mindful of all this even
our coming to the Lord’s Table takes on cosmic dimensions.
We gather in praise for one who transforms death into life, brokenness
into healing, despair into hope for us, but also for all creation! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson,
to the glory of God