Spiritual lessons from animals

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. – Job 12:7-10

God has blessed me with a fine parade of pets over my lifetime, and these precious companions have taught me valuable spiritual lessons. 

Throughout my childhood, I often related to pets better than I could to people. From this photo, it’s clear that Dad and our first dog taught me to respect animals from an early age.

Mewlinda, a friendly gray farm cat who lived to be about 25 years old, exhibited saintly patience with small children – which is fortunate, since I liked to dress cats in doll clothes. I wish I had a photo, but she looked a lot like this cute girl we met at a state park last fall.

My pets prompted me to learn healthy assertiveness. When I first lived on my own, any “no pets” rule was a deal-breaker, no matter how nice the apartment I wanted to rent. I offered to pay an extra deposit if necessary, but potential landlords had to understand that my furry roommates and I were a package deal.

The critters in my life continue to impart lessons. Here, Oley gently coaxes me to keep my priorities straight …

… while Champaign – basking in a small patch of morning light on our sun porch – teaches me the importance of mindfulness and living in the present moment.

They remind my husband and I that companionship makes just about any activity more fun – or at least more endurable. Here’s Oley, helping Pete grade papers …

Torbjorn helping me assemble a newsletter …

… and Champaign helping me wake up in the morning. (Who knows? If I didn’t have that little cat alternately purring and howling in my ear at 6 a.m., I might sleep all day!)

The creatures who share our space in the backyard have taught me we don’t always need to fear strangers, especially when we learn more about them. My first impulse when I discovered a fox living under our deck was to call animal control. But a bit of quick Google research assured Pete and I that foxes pose no threat to humans as long as we maintain respectful distance, and we grew to love Roxy and her kits.

Several animals demonstrate for us the art of seizing opportunity: Oley likes to sneak a drink of water straight from the bathroom faucet.

Vixen and DW, the horses who live next door to our North Carolina cousins, know they’ll probably get a treat if they greet visitors at the fence.

A goose in our neighborhood park eagerly anticipates a slice of bread.

And the squirrels in our backyard figure, “Why let the birds have all the good stuff?

My friends and relatives have some cuties I adore almost as much as my own. Piccolo shows us how to be way cool without even trying – by simply being himself.

Nala derives pleasure from simple things … like watching the popcorn popper perform its task.

Millie, an adorable beagle we like to think of as our semi-official church dog, shows us how to win friends and influence people as she visits sick congregation members (including me, when I was in the hospital). She’s such a good sport, she allows us to dress her up as a sheep for our annual Christmas pageant. 

Animals have thoroughly convinced me that some angels have four legs, fur and whiskers.

During a particularly challenging time in my life – when I was enduring both work and health problems – our sweet Angie Cat sat with me in my recliner every single morning as I poured my feelings of fear, anger, resentment and despair onto my journal pages. I can only aspire to practice such unconditional love. May you rest in peace, my beautiful little friend!

Bear, a magnificent Great Pyrenees, helped his human buddy though some of his darkest hours, staying faithfully by his side as he put his life back together. And then, one day this past winter, this beautiful boy was gone. Everyone in his Nashville, Tennessee neighborhood misses him greatly.

Members of our church had only begun to love Creed – our new pastor’s dog – when God called him home suddenly. Creed left behind a heartbroken congregation.

Finally, some animals teach us to risk loving again, even after a painful loss. 

When I’ve lost beloved pets over the years, I’ve often been tempted to say, “Next time I’m not going to get q-u-i-t-e so attached.” Friends have confessed similar thoughts. Invariably the new pet has other ideas – and before we know it, we’re absolutely smitten. Again. 

“Grief isn’t just something to endure,” says clinical psychologist Mary Pipher, author of Women Rowing North, Reviving Ophelia and several other books. “It also is a reflection of our capacity to love.” Our new fur babies don’t replace the ones we’ve lost, of course. Instead, they expand our hearts and show us that love is an endlessly abundant and renewable resource.

My friend who lost his beautiful Bear over the winter posted a photo last week and asked, “Should I take him, yay or nay?” Of course the pup went home with him. Who could possibly resist this furry little bundle of pure tail-wagging joy?

Gospel, our congregation’s newest church dog, came home with our pastor a few days ago. How long before our pastor and the rest of the congregation start spoiling him absolutely rotten? Can anyone count to one?? Oh wait … I can see the spoiling has already begun.

Perhaps the most important lesson our animal companions teach us is this: LOVE WINS.

Every. Single. Time.

31 thoughts on “Spiritual lessons from animals

  1. When I read Vixen and DW, I thought, wait a minute, I have seen them before. I was going to write to ask Anne if she knew you. And then I see Anne’s message in your post and I knew they are the same. Animals have a way of connecting human beings don’t they?
    I live in a desert and we live in a harsh country with harsh people. Sometimes I think they would eat every animal if they could. But 15 years of living in this community of harsh people and feeding cats and dogs that turn up at my door step every day, has helped a lot of the little children of the families around me to learn to care for animals. They try to nurse little kittens to life and bring them to an adult when they find a sick kitten. I feel the animals in my compound have done and are doing their job- they are teaching a generation of people how to love.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. I was saddened reading about Angie Cat and the Pastor’s dog and Big Bear. But they leave their legacy and have taught us how to love.
    Susie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I so love this post. My pets throughout the years have touched me in the most memorable ways and I passed down the deep love of animals to my daughter (who got her degree in wildlife ecology and now works with creatures of the sea). We currently have a bullmastiff named Lexie who has been with us for 8 years. That’s a good thing–she was a rescue and doesn’t care for other animals in ‘her’ space. If it wasn’t for her proclivity of being an only ‘child,’ I’d have a motorhome full of rescued animals collected along our travels. I’m happy you have so many ‘angels’ around you. They truly do enrich our lives!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I too have been accompanied by animals my whole life. I loved all the different ones you showed us here. Right now I am most impressed by a woman who comes to our Mass with a little dog(some kind of Pomeranian maybe)and sits in the front pew. Not a service dog officially, but no one seems to mind. The woman is clearly a little off and the dog really needs to be there. I like that that allows the woman to just worship.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Such a beautiful tribute to those wonderful creatures that love so unconditionally. All the photos are heartwarming. You never stop missing them when they are gone either. It’s nice you were able to have animals most of your life. They do so much for us than we do for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You included our neighbor horses Vixen and DW!! Wish I could tell them. Their owner has taken them away for their annual time away, and we miss them terribly.

    Your fox picture is beautiful. I saw a fox come through the pasture and into our side yard last week. Next-door Joyce says she and another neighbor have seen the fox on a daily basis. I hope we will see him again, since we are beginning to eat some of our meals outside. It was 50 degrees when we walked yesterday.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I really appreciate what you posted. You really nailed it. If it wasn’t for my kids as I call them (Bear, Scruffy, Newly, Lobi), I don’t know what I would have done without them when I fell on Hard Times. They have given me not only a lot of love, joy and inspiration but the courage to continue on. Bear was my rock and it hurt so much when I lost him but I know he wants me to carry on and that is what I’m going to do in his name. Bear and my journey people have told me warrants a book if not a movie. There is so much that that dog has done for me and we did together that he was on the local news when he passed away and they even had a memorial for him. That’s how much he was loved. Again I say thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This was so beautiful. Love meeting all those amazing and beautiful animals, and I love the lessons you highlighted. You are right, they really do teach us.

    Liked by 2 people

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