Rescue Animals Rescue Us, Too!

While walking through the parking lot of the Columbia County library I was stopped by this bumper sticker.

It read, “Rescue Mom.” And I thought, “Boy, there’s a woman telling the truth!” And then I looked closer. Next to the words Rescue Mom were a set of paw prints and I realized that I was standing in front of a car owned by someone who had taken in an unwanted animal.

This is the time of year when many churches have their annual Blessing of the Animals. At our service I am always struck by how many people bring forward rescue animals for blessings. They may have rescued their dog or cat, but you know those animals really rescued them. That’s what animals do for us, if we let them.

Why have a service to bless animals? First, it keeps us grounded. It is a reminder that you and I are also animals and every year we learn that less and less really divides us from one other. We should be humble when we compare ourselves to the rest of creation.

And then there is that word creation. It brings us to our first story in Genesis, where everything God made was pronounced as good.

Church historian Roberta Bondi writes, “Whatever else we want to say about being made in the image of God, our tradition is also very clear that it isn’t only human beings who reflect who God is. All of creation, every bit of it, expresses God and points us back to God.”
In the creation story, humanity is given dominion over God?s Creation.

That word “dominion” has been used to justify using and abusing Creation for our own pleasure. But that wasn’t God’s intent.
Pope Francis in addressing the UN declared “the environment itself has rights, and that mankind has no authority to abuse them.”

This isn’t new. Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century declared, “For when he considers the universe can anyone be so simple-minded as not to believe that the Divine is present in everything, pervading, embracing and penetrating it.”

Please understand that I’m not trying to re-make animals in our image “frankly that isn’t good enough” but to remind us that they, too, reflect the image of God. And I want to honor everything that makes a dog a dog and a cat a cat.

While my dogs are members of my family, I don’t try to make them into my children. I want to honor the fact that they are a completely different species from me and yet they choose to share their life with me. And if I watch and listen carefully I can learn something of God’s Holy Spirit from them.

I call this Dog-eared Notes from God. Want to know about love? Ask the animals. Want to know about joy? Ask the animals. Want to know about forgiveness? Ask the animals. Want to know about healing? Ask the animals. They can be our teachers.

Because for the most part animal’s lives are so much shorter than our own, we can see the circle its fullness and learn from our animal companions. One of the most difficult lessons they can teach us is how to say good-bye. Jack did that for me.

He was my heart dog; a living example of the saying “Dogs are not our whole life but they make our lives whole.” Jack did just that. Remember the ice storm in 2013? Like many of you, I was without power for days. I couldn’t use my phone. And I couldn’t get out of my house. During that dark time something happened to Jack. He couldn’t breathe properly and I couldn’t get him to a vet for two days. Finally I got out and got help. For several days vet specialists did everything that they could, but on one of my visits to see Jack, I realized he was leaving me. I had to let him go.

My other corgi Kelsey didn’t have a chance to say good-by.
When I finally got home from that last good-bye and changed my clothes Kelsey went over to sniff them and then she, too, knew. Jack was gone.

Like so many of you I thought I would never again allow my heart to be broken like that. I had just lost my mother a couple of months before that and I thought, “That’s it. I can’t take this anymore. I can’t open my heart anymore. It hurts too much.”
Kelsey, it’s just you and me. And then one day it will just be me.
But that isn’t how God works. God allowed his own heart to be broken in and through the death of Jesus so that we might be whole and human. So that we might each reflect the Spirit of the Living God. So that we would be rescued.

Heaven is not just something for later on. Heaven is right now. And sometimes heaven comes in “on little cat feet” and sometimes it comes in the form of a puppy or, as I recently discovered – a Bearded Lizard named Gus.

God allows us to grieve but doesn’t allow grief to have the last word. God had the last word. Resurrection. Today, for me, resurrection looks a lot like my 11-month-old corgi puppy – Aslan’s Own Reepicheep.

Reep isn’t a substitute for Jack. He is his own little creature; one of the Dog-eared Notes from God.

Those involved in animal rescue will tell you that when you bring in an animal you don?t always know who rescued whom. But we know.
We know that it is Jesus who has rescued us in ways seen and unseen to bring new life.

Maybe I wasn’t wrong in how I read that bumper sticker. Rescue Mom. Maybe we all have bumper stickers with our names on it that read Rescue Cindy, Rescue Me. And God does.