Animals play a central role to the nativity, sharing the living space with the humans, their body-heat keeping the family warm at night, their manger providing the baby with a well-insulated bed.
In the Church of England we have a tradition of blessing livestock in rural communities, where we know that the livelihood of our parishioners depends upon the health of their flocks and herds. More recently, some churches have experimented with annual pet blessing services. For some, this is at best gimmicky, at worst blasphemous on the grounds that animals have no soul and that Jesus didn’t die to save the animals. This is, in my opinion, arrogant nonsense: Christ died to reconcile all of creation to itself and to its creator. God reveals to Job his divine, intimate attentive care to animals. Isaiah has a vision of a day when the mountain lion will lie down peaceably with the lamb, and the human child play at the mouth of the viper’s nest. I have no doubt that when the earth is clothed in its renewed, imperishable body, that it will be inhabited by animals as well as people.
Pets give a great deal of companionship and joy to their owners. For many, they are also a working partner, opening up the world to the visually-impaired, hearing-impaired, or elderly. Pets also help children learn to take responsibility for creation. The loss of a pet can be felt heavily. The loss of a pet in close proximity to the loss of a relative can be a hard blow.
If we have a pet, as well as tending to their physical needs, do we pray in relation to them: do we give thanks for them, do we pray for their wellbeing? Does that feel...inappropriate? If so, why?
Taking a dog for a walk – whether your own dog, or borrowing a friend’s dog – can be a good way to come into conversation with other dog owners. Why not ask God if there is anything in particular he wants that person to know – a personal message from God you could deliver?
Advent: making room for Jesus – with your pets.