Humanity’s relationship with pets goes back a long way. Humans were still hunter-gatherers when we first domesticated dogs around 11,000 years ago. Cats were pickier about aligning with humans, waiting until about 8000 years ago to be domesticated (though in their case, evidence suggests we didn’t so much domesticate them as accept their decision to live with us.)
The nature of human relationships with pets has developed over thousands of years. Today, it differs across the world. In western culture, many pets offer humans companionship, amusement, distraction, and even exercise. When we are sad, troubled, or tired, snuggling with that kind of pet can bring comfort and peace, and they give us opportunities to offer love and care for them. Other animals with whom we might have less affectionate relationships offer endless opportunities for wonder, curiosity, and surprise.
Bringing an animal into our home as a pet bring us out of our human-focused mindset and into direct relationship with an element of God’s created world. When we observe a cat stretching, wonder at the graceful movements of tropical fish in a tank, try to discern how our pet bird thinks when it sees the world so differently from how we see it, we are taking opportunities to connect with creation in all its diverse glory. The fact that we often seek out these opportunities — that, in a culture where many of us no longer need pets for practical reasons, so many of us take on the expense and responsibility of caring for animals — suggests that some quality deep in human nature longs for this connection with the created world.
In this class, the Rev. Emily Mellott discusses ways in which our connection with animals brings humans, ultimately, into relationship with God, and ways in which mindful animal care can help bring us closer to God. Click below for a preview.
Today, we launched Introducing Benedictine Spirituality with Laurel Dahill. St. Benedict of Nursia was born in the fifth century and had such a strong and lasting influence on monastic life that he became known to history as the Father of Monasticism. One reason for his widespread influence was his Rule: regulations guiding day-to-day living which he used to guide the abbeys that he founded so that they could live according to his precepts in his absence.
In this class, the Rev. Laurel Dahill, a priest who lives her life according to Benedict’s Rule, shows modern Christians how we might adapt Benedict’s Rule to guide our day-to-day lives and help us live according to our values. Benedict’s Rule emphasizes stability and rhythm and a wise use of our time, so that we may nourish our minds, bodies, and souls. In our rushed lives, bombarded with news, videos, entertainment, and advertisements as well as many responsibilities, it can be helpful to commit ourselves to living mindfully, to acting purposefully, and to being deliberate in our daily activities.
In the Everyday Spiritual Practices class that we launched this past Sunday, the Reverend Keith Anderson suggested a variety of spiritual exercises that we might employ during our busy days. Which practices we choose to use depends on which activities resonate with each of us at different times in our lives – even at different times of the day. Such practices can be any activities that call our attention to God or help us love and serve our neighbors.
I find that everyday activities, even odd ones, can become spiritually rewarding. For a while, I found spiritual value in the act of putting on my children’s shoes; the act resembled foot washing enough that it became holy to me. Then the days got busier, and now I am usually in a hurry when I put on my son’s shoes, so the act has lost its spiritual significance, but others have come to take its place.
Right now, one of my spiritually rewarding daily activities is the act of putting my older son to bed. He prefers to say his prayers silently. Next to him, in the quiet room, I naturally find myself praying silently alongside him, especially for him and his brother and my husband.
When the children were younger, a spiritual practice that came naturally was just walking to and from a pond near our house while holding them in slings or other baby-wearing devices. There was something about the beauty of the pond and the warm baby snuggled against me that naturally drew me toward mindfulness and gratitude. It can be easy to engage in spiritual activity if we just go with the acts that seem to draw us in that direction anyway.
Deliberately engaging formal, spiritual disciplines also helps many people. The Rev. Anderson suggested journaling and gratitude journals. My mother gets great spiritual satisfaction from religious journaling; she makes time each day to write in her journal and deals with life’s difficulties by asking God to be with her and then journaling her problems out with God.
Some people make time every day to sew or knit their prayers into quilts and blankets. We received a prayer blanket that someone had crocheted for my son when he was a baby that soothed me greatly during those first anxious, sleepless weeks with a newborn. Some people make time during the day to draw or paint the things and people they love in a spirit of mindfulness. I know a woman who swims laps mindfully each day; she finds spiritual benefit in the repetitive act of swimming and the relative peace of just moving back and forth across the pool.
What spiritual disciplines do you find help you in your daily lives? What daily activities have become imbued with spiritual meaning for you? Please comment! We would love to read about them!