Blessing of the Animals


It is so good to be here today, and it is so good to open up the
circle of our worship to our beloved animal companions. We call this a
Blessing of the Animals service, and it's really the animals
blessing us. We are the ones receiving the blessing. Theologically, I
understand this to mean that the world simply overflows with goodness
and truth-that there are scriptures in nature as much as in the pages
of bound books-and it is all a sheer plenitude, too much ever to be
boxed up and contained by a single religion or wisdom tradition-or
species. And it's up to us to receive.

Truth overflows, it is constantly and continually revealed-and to the
end of receiving that part of it which is evident in the lives of our
pets, just listen to the stories some of you shared with me this past
week. I had invited reflections and memories about animals that
changed your life or brought you joy, and hope, and healing, and here
are just some of them.

This first is about a cat named Sparkle. Sparkle entered Shirley
Adam's life as a feral cat who would not come near until they day
she noticed that his leg was wounded. Shirley was able to get ahold of
Sparkle and take him to the vet, and there he lost his leg but in the
process gained a new name: Tripod. And he was undaunted. Right after
coming home from the vet, Tripod went straight to the desk and climbed
up into a drawer and fell instantly, peacefully asleep. How he did
that, considering what he'd just been through, is something
Shirley has been asking herself ever since. Thirteen years later,
Sparkle who became Tripod has become a precious part of her family and
her life. Tripod loves a good meal, roams through the backyards of the
neighborhood, and even taught Shirley how to dance. Shirley was trying
to learn the country western two-step, and Tripod was the only one,
she says, who had the patience to stay in her arms while she endlessly
practiced the "quick quick slow slow" rhythm of the dance.

That's just a little bit about Tripod-and then there is Blue, a
Great Dane mix, who is here for what may be her very last public
appearance. Blue is part of the family of Brigitte, Jac, and Milo
Clifton-part of the family for more than eleven years, but Blue has
recently developed cancer, osteosarcoma of the wrist, and not being a
good candidate for amputation, she's been given eight months to
live. Blue is a teacher too, teaching four year old Milo and the
entire family life lessons about gentleness, loving, and now dying.
The sweetest face you ever saw on a dog.

And then there is "The Grand Cat," Albert-that's what
Janet Paulk calls him. Albert died in 2001 and was buried in
Janet's back yard, near a crepe myrtle tree, in a box which had
once held shoes called "Easy Spirit." Just settle into that
image for a moment: "Easy Spirit." Janet talks about how sad
the loss was, and yet the good memories remain strong and alive. She
and Ira continue to laugh about Albert's uniqueness and
personality. One memory goes back to 1998, and this is what Janet has
to say about it: "I took my Synthroid for under-active thyroid;
Albert took his Tapozal for over-active thyroid. I took my Metamucil
for you know what, and he took his CatLax for the opposite reason. I
took my Allegra to address allergies, and he took Advantage to address
fleas. Was there any ailment that he didn't try to go me one
better?"

Thank you so much for sharing all these stories. We hold out the cup
of our hearts to receive them. Tripod and Blue and the Grand Cat,
Albert are here with us today, in body or in spirit, here in this
circle of beloved community … and so is the black and tan dog
Georgia who was killed by a car almost two Novembers ago. Georgia came
to Brandon and Vicki Smith after a rough start, almost certainly
abused by a series of previous owners. That's why, in the
beginning, Georgia was growley and uncertain and just wanted to be
left alone. But as she settled in, her remarkable resilient spirit won
out and she opened up-was funny and playful and loving and received
the love that Brandon and Vicki lavished upon her.

Brandon and Vicki were looking forward to many years with Georgia, but
it was not to be. She was hit by a car one early morning, and by the
time Vicki got to her, she was dead. How painful this loss was, and
is. Why do such bad things happen? But listen to what Vicki has to say
about the lessons she's learned from her time with Georgia. She
writes: "Animals amaze me. Dogs especially. They are the epitome
of spiritual grace. The epitome of love. Marley [which is Brandon and
Vicki's other dog] reminds me daily of unconditional love and
humbleness, but Georgia taught me to face fear. She taught me that you
can't live in your shell, you have to venture out and take the
risk to love again. You have to try again and again because you will
get what you are searching for if you have faith and the ability to
wait for it. She taught me that sometimes you are put in a place where
you don't know the landscape and you don't know the people,
but if you put out trust, little by little, you might find gold. And
she taught me how to receive. She let herself be loved. She let her
guard down and let us in. God! I can't imagine the courage she had
to live her life. I guess she also taught me how not to be a glutton.
How to let go when you have reached your fill. How not to hold on and
milk it for all it's worth. She was quietly satisfied and that was
enough. See, I needed more of her. I still do. I wasn't ready to
let her go. I guess I don't learn as fast. But the impression this
little girl made on me won't ever leave. I have a tattoo on my
wrist that reminds me of her all the time. I miss her so much. She
cracked my heart open and for that I am thankful." That's
what Vicki Smith says. That's what Georgia taught her.

The animals bless us. We are the ones receiving the blessing. And
ultimately, as I see it, we are led into a realization of what it
truly means to be a Unitarian Universalist faith community. Now when I
use that word "faith," know that I'm not referring to
holding on to a belief stubbornly, without sufficient evidence or
despite clear evidence to the contrary. The faith I'm talking
about is not about existence beliefs or causal beliefs or others.
It's about an attitude of trust instead; it's about growing in
trust that this world, with all its pains and sorrows, is worth it.
That our lives are worth living, that there is a sacredness to the
world which surrounds us and is within us, and though at times we can
feel so lonely for it and blocked and alienated, it is nevertheless
faithful, it is always there waiting for our hearts and minds to
receive it: a wisdom that sustains, a peace that passes all
understanding, a compassion that makes us stronger than we knew and
moves us to heal a hurting world.

Believe what you like. As a Unitarian Universalist, you get to.
Believe that there is a living loving God. Believe that there is no
such thing, and that love and justice and truth can only ever rise to
human heights and expand out into human dimensions. Believe as you
must, as you will, as your reason and conscience and intuition compel.
Both beliefs belong here, and others that are life-affirming as well.
Yet let the center and core of what we are as a Unitarian Universalist
spiritual community be the faith that is a solid unshakeable trust,
practical, gets us up in the morning, keeps us going no matter what,
keeps us growing and curious and searching, keeps us open to goodness
and truth from whatever source they come. Let that be the core of who
and what we are as a people. Constantly and continually, let's
meditate upon that and encourage each other in that and celebrate
that. Our common faith.

And to the end of knowing this once again, the animals bless us. Right
now, we are receiving truth and wisdom and grace from them. On four
feet or three feet or two feet or no feet, they walk or hop or slither
into our midst, and they are nothing less than a living scripture to
us. They have lessons to teach, and we receive. I bow to them and I
use language from one of the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism to
say to them, Namaste. I see the God in you. The God in me greets
the God in you.

Without them, how diminished our lives would be. They don't let
the fact that they might have only three legs get in the way of
dancing with us. Quick quick slow slow, quick quick slow slow, we
dance the dance of life together. Side by side, with an easy spirit,
we age and grow old and might even compete to see who's got the
most medicine to take. Accident or disease take our animals from us,
and we learn lessons about dying and about grieving and about letting
go. And then there are times, as with Georgia the dog, they crack our
hearts wide open. They just crack them wide open. They embody and
model an invincible trust. Abused, the resilience within them brings
them back to life. Just listen again to Vicki Smith's words:
"Georgia taught me to face fear. She taught me that you can't
live in your shell, you have to venture out and take the risk to love
again. You have to try again and again because you will get what you
are searching for if you have faith and the ability to wait for it.
She taught me that sometimes you are put in a place where you
don't know the landscape and you don't know the people, but if
you put out trust, little by little, you might find gold."

Now that's Unitarian Universalist good news. That's our gold
message of faith, and it just wants to be shared with the whole wide
world. It's irrepressible. Our beloved animals lead us to it. We
are blessed by the animals. Amen.