Blessing of the Beasts

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
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On this coming Sunday, October 2, we will be celebrating a Blessing of the Beasts on the festival of St. Francis of Assisi. The observance in ancient in origin, practiced widely by Episcopalians who have seemed, more than any other faith group, to claim it as their own. For us in the Reformed/Free Church tradition things like Ash Wednesday, Lent, following the Common Lectionary, and rituals like anointing with oil are recent to us. We are so often late to the party. In the past we often viewed such expressions of faith as too liturgical, which meant, for many, too Catholic. When we finally came out of our sealed canister and became a part of the broader ecumenical community of churches we discovered a Christian world with long-standing practices, many ancient and going back to the beginning. We took some and not others. And the Blessing of the Beasts is one of those.

Along with it comes a largely neglected area in Christian theology, perhaps even a blind spot. It is no surprise that Christian theology has been androcentric – human centered – in most respects. And this in spite of large and broad Biblical affirmations about the role of non-human creation. In the broader Christian tradition the whole creation has often been portrayed as giving witness and praise to the glory of God. Their importance is not solely defined in relation to how they benefit human creatures, but is rather an intrinsic value, deriving from the simple fact that God has created them, given them the breath of life and declared them good.

It was my pleasure this past year to spend some time in Assisi, home of St. Francis. In that place, in those surroundings, it is easy to see how nature -centered his spirituality was. We find in his Canticle of the Sun, for instance, that the whole of creation gives praise to God, takes its place in the economy of God, and that each and every aspect of creation provides wonder for the soul who will see and behold it – not as an object to be used in a utilitarian way, but appreciated for its own sake.

One of the prayers we will use at our Blessing of the Beasts is from Andrew Linzey:

God of the universe,
All creatures praise you:

The birds flying upward to the heavens,
the lumbering of the bear,
the purring of the cat,
the swift legs of the cheetah,
the dance of the hare,
the lapping of the dog,
the descent of the dove.

God of a thousand ears:
The music of your creatures
resounds throughout creation
and in heaven a symphony is made.

Help us to wonder, Lord,
to stand in awe
stand and stare
and so to praise you
for the richness of the world
you have laid before us.

Large and immense God:
Help us to know the littleness
of our lives without you.
You are God beyond our littleness
and in one tiny space and time
you became one with us.

Enlarge our hearts and minds
to reverence all living things
and in our care for them
to become big with your grace
and the signs of your kingdom.  Amen.

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