Rachel Marie Stone, in her essay in Common Prayer, “God Bless Rocket and Bobo and Tigger,” names several reasons the Blessing of the Animals is a favorite worship service in many churches. One of those reasons is that the occasion helps us to know better and more about our human community members through gathering with the animal companions they love. She writes,
“I love watching the faces of the congregants on that day. As they carry small dogs and lead larger ones, as they lug crates with cats or rabbits or box turtles, I recognize a look of pride and amusement, of affection and something like satisfaction. It’s as if everyone has brought a part of themselves to church that’s usually left at home: the part that crochets on the couch whilst wearing pajamas and watching crime dramas; the part that reads middlebrow genre fiction in bed, hair askew; the part that fusses over animals in a high pitched voice that they’d never use at the office or at church. It’s as if our souls have come to church in their slippers and bathrobes. We’re less guarded, because how sophisticated and dignified can you be when you’re cradling a floppy-eared puppy, or toting a bunny in a box? I love that the service opens up—and shares—something in us that’s usually reserved for home.”
Stone is right.
I think of the parishioners I’ve known who seemed tough and even combative in church meetings, but now I’ve seen them cuddling their beloved rescue dog; the people who seem shy do the very vulnerable thing of introducing a pet and telling you all about them; the person who turns into an evangelist for her church by rounding up friends and neighbors to bring them to the blessing of the animals. How wonderful, and how in the spirit of St. Francis this seems. After all, the saint loved all creation and praised God for it, but wanted very much for us humans to learn how to love one another better. If it takes the help of our animal companions, here’s another reason to give thanks for them and bless them.