Mara turned five this week. Mara is my daughter’s pet boxer whose picture banners this blog post. She is an exuberant dog; lover of life and people.
She was Tracy’s graduation gift from her dad and her name is in honour of Tracy’s mom who passed away just a few months before Mara came home with us. Most of my life I had been more of a dog admirer than a dog lover but it didn’t take long for this one to start wriggling her way into my heart.
Tracy awarded me the title of ‘Poppy’ to our new family member and Mara and Poppy began walking, talking, playing, and rough-housing daily as she discovered the world around her. She even began to take up regular square footage on my bed at night which would inevitably increase until we ended up spooning comfortably by morning.
What an amazing gift she was to our family after months of trauma. Our home came alive with Mara’s insistence on dishing out her brand of nuzzling, unconditional love. A couple of years later I found myself admitting to Tracy that I loved her dog: “I actually, literally love her.”
If you are a pet-owner / animal lover you can relate to it: dogs, cats, horses, sheep, cows, rabbits, hamsters, on and on, can carve out special places in our lives. I’m not sure why: perhaps it’s the cuteness, the innocence; maybe it’s the freedom they feel to be themselves without embarrassment; maybe it’s the love they insist on sharing with us. Regardless of why, the bottom line is that they are a gift to us from the God who invented them.
I am reminded of God’s joy and intimacy with all of his creation, including the non-human creatures that also make earth their home. Every time I hear of a new species being discovered I think of Philip Yancey’s observation that creatures undiscovered or unobserved by humans must also serve some deeper, satisfying purpose for their creator.
When I see those occasional online videos of someone rescuing a bear cub or bird or sea turtle, the world finds its balance again for those few moments.
God’s connection with animals is rooted in the celebration at the beginning of the bible: through his command, the water and the earth ‘bring forth’ all sorts of flying, swimming, and moving things and, guess what? He takes pleasure in them.
Much later we bump into Israel’s Mosaic Law which provided guidance for God’s people in a primitive environment. The fourth commandment is regarding a nationwide day of rest.
“ … but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you.” – from Deut. 5:14, NLT (emphasis mine)
God values even the working animals to the point that he insists they be given a day off along with everybody else. There is even a later command to allow animals doing repetitious work to remain unmuzzled.
Contrast that to our current culture that continually infringes recklessly on the natural habitats of wildlife. Food-producing animals like cows, pigs, and chickens are no longer from local farmers but are force-produced by faceless, profit-driven corporations in warehouses and factories half a continent away. Most laying hens live their lives in 67 square inches of space; do the math. Puppy mills pump out over bred litters of retail pets for families who are underprepared for the commitment and cost.
I honestly believe that crowding and commercialization have separated us from the sacredness and purpose of the animals God has given us.
Christian writer Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that God is more than just the creative force of nature or the cause of its unity. She writes, “Instead, I want to proclaim that God is the unity – the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that make it all go.” *
I’m inviting you to read and meditate on Psalm 104 below. It’s mesmerizing and beautiful.
I have highlighted verse 31b which confirms, “The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!” Notice the intimacy and matrix of relationships it describes between God, the heavens, the earth, vegetation, animals, you and me.
It is also interesting that a beautiful Psalm about creation shouts near the end in a way that seems strangely out of sync with the rest. As the writer begins to descend to the finish, an emotional, gutteral prayer escapes his lips – wishing that ‘all sinners’ and ‘the wicked’ would just go away; disappear. It is as though the Psalmist is suddenly reminded how evil-doers treat the beauty God has created. There are those who feel it’s our right to dominate everything: idol of subjugation. It is as true today as it was back then.
Nevertheless, we’ve been given a beautiful world to care for and enjoy.
A little puppy showed me so.
Let all that I am praise the Lord.
O Lord my God, how great you are!
You are robed with honor and majesty.
You are dressed in a robe of light.
You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens;
you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
flames of fire are your servants.
You placed the world on its foundation
so it would never be moved.
You clothed the earth with floods of water,
water that covered even the mountains.
At your command, the water fled;
at the sound of your thunder, it hurried away.
Mountains rose and valleys sank
to the levels you decreed.
Then you set a firm boundary for the seas,
so they would never again cover the earth.
You make springs pour water into the ravines,
so streams gush down from the mountains.
They provide water for all the animals,
and the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds nest beside the streams
and sing among the branches of the trees.
You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home,
and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor.
You cause grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for people to use.
You allow them to produce food from the earth—
wine to make them glad,
olive oil to soothe their skin,
and bread to give them strength.
The trees of the Lord are well cared for—
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests,
and the storks make their homes in the cypresses.
High in the mountains live the wild goats,
and the rocks form a refuge for the hyraxes.
You made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to set.
You send the darkness, and it becomes night,
when all the forest animals prowl about.
Then the young lions roar for their prey,
stalking the food provided by God.
At dawn they slink back
into their dens to rest.
Then people go off to their work,
where they labor until evening.
O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
teeming with life of every kind,
both large and small.
See the ships sailing along,
and Leviathan (sea creature),which you made to play in the sea.
They all depend on you
to give them food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
You open your hand to feed them,
and they are richly satisfied.
But if you turn away from them, they panic.
When you take away their breath,
they die and turn again to dust.
When you give them your breath, life is created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
The earth trembles at his glance;
the mountains smoke at his touch.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth;
let the wicked disappear forever.
Let all that I am praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
* Barbara Brown Taylor, The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion (Cowley Publications, 2000), pp 73-74