Tuesday, June 19, 2007

got any room for an animal in your faith?

What part do animals play in your faith?

Following a communion moment last November at Opawa, when a dog was fed some of the host/bread, I have been pondering the place of animals and communion. This week I hope to finish, and submit, a 4,000 word article: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master¬ís table”: a contemporary reflection on the sacramentality of communion.

Today, I came across these quotes from Isaac of Nineveh, 7th century bishop:

“What is a merciful heart? It is a heart of fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and for all that exists.”

“If a person of humility comes near dangerous wild animals, then the moment these catch sight of him, their ferocity is calmed; they come up to him and attach themselves to him as though he were their master, wagging their tails and licking his hands and feet. This is because they smell that fragrance that emanated from Adam when he named the animals in Paradise before the Fall: this fragrance was taken away from us at the Fall, but Christ gave it back to us at his coming.”

How many Christians today share the same understanding of Christianity as Bishop Isaac? What is the place of animals in your faith and practices?

Posted by steve at 12:33 PM


  1. Look forward to reading it – see my Eucharistic request at BBA.



    Comment by Tom Allen — June 19, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

  2. tom, while not a “missional” resource, for me, the most clearly free-church theology of church is found in Volf’s, After the Likeness. He looks at John Smith, early Baptist founder, in comparison to Zizoulas (Orthodox) and Ratzinger (Catholic). While Volf does not make explicit links to communion, his work opens up for me, as a Baptist, a way of being relationally sacramental around communion.

    if you whip through the archives of this blog, there are quite a number of communion posts – workers communion etc.


    Comment by steve — June 19, 2007 @ 1:05 pm

  3. Interesting quote from Isaac. This reminds me of the story about St.Francis encountering the wolf.
    And it makes think about the groaning of the whole creation awaiting the revelation of the sons of God that Paul speaks about in Romans 8.

    Comment by DoSi — June 20, 2007 @ 12:22 am

  4. Interesting that you bring this up, as I have been considering just such a post. Still formulating my ideas, so I’ll refrain from weighing in just now.


    Comment by Jamie Arpin-Ricci — June 21, 2007 @ 7:48 am

  5. i’ve deleted this comment a few times, but keep coming back to it.

    i feel really uncomfortable the title of your article. i think my discomfort comes with the statistics i recently heard about how the amount of money spent each year on pet food in the US and Europe is about the amount of money required to feed the starving people in the world… which seems to me to be one of the confronting truths of the bible passage from which the title comes. [it’s a particular favourite of mine… come to think of it, it’s the basis for how i understand mission]

    i don’t have a heart of fire for all of creation. i’ll kill a spider in a heartbeat [or, truthfully, make someone else kill it for me… i can’t go near them]. i wish the world could be rid of the giardia parasite. but, like isaac, i do also believe that all things that live are held in the heart of god… even the parasites, even the spiders, much to my regret. but i also think we find it easier to love dogs than we do to love people. and we find it easier to believe that god would love dogs and want them at the communion table than we do to believe that god would love the people we find impossible to love, and want them eating next to us too.

    Comment by cheryl — June 21, 2007 @ 11:24 am

  6. thanks cheryl. it’s a 5,000 word work in progress, so there should be a gap between my working title and a few stray quotes.

    it emerged from a street person at one of our services feeding the communion bread to a dog, which really got me thinking about communion.

    i listen to you on the podcast recently ranting about how churches need to engage with where people are at and not hide behind boundaries. isn’t what i am thinking merely an expression of that? this animal is a key part of this mans spirituality. animals often are for people, and can be a pathway for healing. what do do we as a church do with that, and how does that fit with communion. can people who find spirituality in and through their animals be allowed a place at communion, as they are, including their dogs?


    Comment by steve — June 21, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  7. i’m not arguing with the content of your article – i don’t know what you’re going to say in the article. my comment was purely about where my head went when i read the title.

    i do think we need to go where people are at, but that doesn’t mean we need to bless everything there. christ speaks into and from within culture. we need to find the bits of culture that are life-giving and align ourselves with them. we need to speak against the bits that aren’t.

    i think relationships with animals can be lifegiving. of course. i’d also want to question a fair bit of ‘pet’ culture – whether it is lifegiving [especially for the animals involved]. i want to ask why our supermarket shelves are filled with gourmet pet food. there’s ambiguity in all this.

    but as i said, my reaction was purely to the article title. i really like the quite from isaac, even though – as i said – i know i don’t live up to it.

    Comment by cheryl — June 21, 2007 @ 1:27 pm

  8. Cheryl and Jamie,
    since you’ve both been kind enough to engage and push back a little, i’ll flick you a copy of the paper. I am hoping to have it published in Colloquium journal, which has an edition focused on animal spirituality.

    peace and out, steve

    Comment by steve — June 21, 2007 @ 4:12 pm

  9. I wonder whether a truly incarnational approach to theology can encorporate all of Creation – animals as much as humans – into the expectation of some kind of genuinely corporate spiritual and material healing and restoration by God.

    I wonder whether feeling like an animal has just as much right of access to God, to the sacraments, and to salvation/renewal as a HUMAN does is an appropriate and globally conscious kind of spirituality to aim at developing.

    Of course, that still feels slightly weird. But maybe that MY fault (and I need to think more about it)?

    (oh, and also I don’t feel that the ‘crumbs from the table’ imagery is actually about literal dogs at all, but that doesn’t change the validity of the point itself)

    Comment by Iain — June 21, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

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