Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my Lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for they will be crowned.
-St. Francis of Assisi
Blessing of the Animals
The feast of St. Francis of Assisi, observed a few days ago, is often celebrated with the Blessing of Animals, a nod to the saint’s honoring of all creation, his celebration of brother sun, sister moon, his ability to assuage ravenous wolves, to hold the attention of birds of the air with captivating sermons. In my ministry, it’s been my privilege to participate in a number of these services, but one in particular stands out.
In Manhattan, we offered the Blessing of Animals at our evening service. In the darkness, we gathered all kinds of creatures, which was fun. I do recall one stretch limo that pulled up in front of the church. Three small fluffy white dogs, ribbons on their heads emerged, tethered to a butler. They looked like they’d never been outside of their penthouse. They were lovingly carried into the sanctuary and then whisked back to their haven once blessed, though I imagine in many ways their little lives were already pretty blessed.
That same night, after a brief homily marked by barks, the clergy stood at the front of the church to offer blessings. Five priests. No waiting. Congregants lined up the center aisle with their animal companions, mostly dogs, cats, a few caged birds and small adorable rodents. But there was one memorable participant.
At first, in the darkness, it was hard to recognize. A woman approached the clergy, carrying a 4 foot iguana. It was transported in a Snuggly, strapped to her chest. She approached the rector. He referred her to me. He told her that I was the one who covered reptiles. I was intrigued and glad to offer a blessing. There’s a first time for everything. After the service, I did find this woman to ask: “How did you get here?” She responded without a blink: “On the subway.”
I could imagine a church that would say “Dogs and cats and cute rodents, only. No iguanas.” I remain grateful for that New York church which practiced radical welcome and an expansive view of blessings.
Across the centuries, St. Francis teaches us many things. He teaches us about serving the poor. He teaches us about prayer. He teaches us about faith in action. He teaches us about care for creation. He teaches us that we can do all these things with irrepressible joy. That’s quite an enduring legacy. And included in his legacy of lessons: the blessing of all of life. That tradition continues with folks who seem to know something about God.
Here’s a quirky story about a monk. This spiritual leader was invited to teach and preach all over the country. He needed a driver. Monk and chauffeur covered miles on the interstate. The driver noticed that whenever they drove past a dead animal on the side of the road (a.k.a., roadkill) the monastic made the sign of the cross. I know it sounds eccentric, but it made an impression on me. It was a recognition of the sacredness of life, a blessing of that sacredness, even when it involves the least, the lost, the gross, the discarded by the side of the road. In my travels, I’ve begun to imitate this monk. I’ve tried to look for opportunities for blessing. They turn up in the most unlikely places.
This Monday morning, in honor of St. Francis, give thanks for all the blessings of life. Reflect on the ways that you have been blessed. Then think about how you can extend blessing, beginning with the psalmist’s persistent urging to bless the Lord. Share blessings with others, especially those who you might be inclined to dismiss, or those who have been discarded by the side of the road, or those who have done you wrong. Remember the challenge of Jesus who told his disciples to bless those who curse you. If perhaps you’re holding resentment toward someone, send them on their way with blessing. And then offer blessing for all of creation, all good gifts around us.
And as you do, have a blessed day.
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