Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Let's brush up our animal theology

I saw a very touching news item. A cancer charity is investing in donkey therapy for young survivors of cancer. For a few months the youngsters get to spend time with their donkey. Animal and human get to know each other. In fact, donkeys are incredibly empathetic to human suffering.

Over the weeks, alongside other young cancer survivors, as they nurture and look after the donkeys the youngsters find time to talk about their problems and begin their road to emotional recovery.

The charity is so thrilled by the results that it is looking to extend the project.

In my parish we have a donkey in a field next to us. Or we had one. His name was Herbie and he was a beautiful creature. If I was having a bad day I would go over and pet him. Herbie used to have a partner. They were friends for years. When his friend died, Herbie stood next to the body for a day, mourning the loss of his mate.

Donkeys are incredibly sensitive and gentle creatures. I wonder if that's why Jesus rode on one. But this opens us up to think about the creative universe and how iit reveals God. The ancient Celts understood this very clearly – seeing God in the whole of creation.

I own three cats. Cats are graceful and gentle creatures and they have extraordinary powers of empathy. Ten years ago my wife had a brain haemorrhage. She had to lie flat for a whole year at home. It was torture. But my lovely tom cat Lance spent each and every day on her pillow and would cheer her up, groom her and give her a good purr. She says she would never have got through the year without him. Now she is better he has gone back to sleeping all day. Job done! Mission accomplished.

My little cat Luna has become a pastoral star as well. People come to see me and sometimes they are dealing with very upsetting issues in their lives. One big fella came last week and he was crying. The next minute Luna had jumped up onto his lap and began licking his bald head.

The sudden look of joy that came across my distressed friend's face was amazing. All we could do was laugh at the sheer sweetness of it. He has asked if he can back every week for a while, but only if the cat can also be there.

I often feel that one of the things we should repent of is our treatment of animals. As we learn more about them and their amazing sense of empathy I hope it helps us to value our animal friends and praise God for his mighty creation.

I also increasingly wonder how I can go on eating meat, but that's another question.

The Celts had their animal theology sorted out. It wasn't pantheism, but they did have a sense of wonder and thankfulness for the creatures around us. I wonder if we evangelicals might regain a bit of that?

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