This Sunday, the last of September, the sabbath closest to the feast of St. Francis, we celebrate the Blessing of the Animals. Francis was known for his communion with the entire biosphere, his kinship with various beasts, and his kindness toward them. You can tell a lot about a man or woman by how they treat cats and dogs. Are they the lowest rung of this world, which we kick when we’ve had a lousy day? Or does the companionship of animals give us something sacred?
Of course, we opt for the latter at First Congregational Church, Darien. Our faith teaches us that the weak and the vulnerable—wherever we find them—are to be lifted up, honored, respected, nurtured, and celebrated. That is because, according to the Gospel, the kingdom of God will not come in a trickle down manner. When the reign of God is established, it will unfold bottom up. In a world of endless pavement, more cars, and rushing to and fro, yes, out pets are vulnerable.
Serious-minded religious types dismiss blessing animals as hokey, as affectation, or some self-indulgent frippery. I say this. Given the natural tensions we experience living in close proximity, I’m impressed by how our pets can create a sacred center, where everyone can meet. When we can’t get along with each other, we all can still root for our pets and find quiet comfort in them. Shouldn’t they at least be granted some consideration, appreciation, yea, even a full blessing?
Griffin greeted me nightly with unfettered fervor, as though it were our first-time ever meeting. He did it every night! How does a creature generate such eager regard, enough to animate our hardest days, enough to salve the neglect we endure, enough to put a fresh face upon our day?
The tender manner with which you describe your pets, and the way you come together bringing them forward for blessing, gives me clues and indicators how you all are. What I’ve learned by blessing your animals–children and parents looking on–is that your pets provide me a royal road through into the heart of your home by which I can serve you better. How valuable is that for a pastor trying to get a bead on how you’re doing, what kind of season it is within your lives!
Services this Sunday at 8:30 am are as usual in our Meetinghouse, with Ben Geeding preaching. Blessing of the Animals is at 10 am on the lawn, spreading out in sunshine beneath the canopy of nature. We will have chairs for you, or you can bring your own. It’s best to have dogs on a leash or cats in their home, lest things grow too chaotic. Ben and I will offer a dialogue sermon.
This being an accessible hour of worship, with the casual attitude we share, it is a perfect time to invite a friend or neighbor with whom you have been meaning to share your spiritual home.
Part of the fun is we never know what will happen. Do you recall when a cow punctuated my sermon by lowing at key points in my message? You could barely contain your mirth. I saw it as a chance for self-deprecating humor. May God’s mercy and grace abound upon all living things!
See you on Sunday at either 8:30 am or 10 am.