Animal Teachers

We are without pets in our house these days. Our four walls have been home to two cats and two dogs. I don’t count the time the mouse from one son’s classroom was a houseguest for a long school vacation. But at this point in time only humans reside in our home. And we may be the worse for it.

Today I was reading a devotional I am following during Advent. The writer, Jan Sutch Pickard, pointed out that the donkey we so readily read into the story of the first Christmas comes from our imagination, not scripture. Our imagination and countless artist’s renderings of Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem. I suppose at some point someone began to tell the story with this added character because, really, how could a very pregnant young woman walk all that way? Those of us who have been in this physical state might ask the question, why would she want to ride on a donkey?! Speculation aside, the idea that they were headed to a stable and not a hospital makes the donkey believable and endearing.

Over the years we have infused the story with other animals…cattle, camels, and in some cultures other animals that are beloved. Because the fact of the matter is that animals can be our great teachers…if we are awake and aware. Which is one of the nudges of the season of Advent. Remember…keep awake! The animals that live in our homes or just outside our doors bring elements to our stories that words and human activity simply cannot express. How I learned the gift of stillness and tuning my rhythm to the movements of the Sun from our yellow, tabby cat Gabriel! And our English Springer spaniel, Griffin, taught me the sheer joy of life as he leapt the fence or took a running jump off the dock, airborne into the lake. And the many birds whose flyway is the sky over our yard…oh, the lessons they offer.

In downtown St. Paul, an antique store has created a quirky manger scene. It is one some might find sacrilegious but I would think they might miss the point. My husband and I happened upon it and it stopped us in our tracks, made us laugh, and has since made me think. This manger scene holds only one human…the baby Jesus…surrounded completely by animals. I wonder what the creators of the window thought while making this scene that now causes the humans moving past to stop and wonder.

In our backyard, a rabbit’s tracks in the snow make its presence known. I am thankful that it has made a home under our deck and finds sanctuary there. The days and months ahead will be cold and this courageous creature will winter storm and freezing temperatures. He is braver than I and I know it. Perhaps with no pets inside the house, this rabbit is a new teacher. Time will tell.

Back to that donkey. I am thankful to the first person who added this creature to the telling of one of our most sacred stories. Doing so reminds me of the humility, the vulnerability and the gifts of stillness and quiet of those without words who are our companions, those that also have the ability to show us the Face of God. May it be so in this year’s telling and in this year’s living. And may this prayer by Jan Sutch Pickard be ours:

“God of creatures great and small,
we thank you for those that accompany us on our journey through life,
and belong in the stories that we tell,
and for all we can learn from them – patience, usefulness, and trust. Amen”

One thought on “Animal Teachers

  1. Since we have been without a dog in our home, for a few lonely years, I also have noticed the rabbits more and more. I find myself talking to them and wondering how hey do survive in such challenging conditions. I am fond of them even though they do eat up some of my favorite gardening attempts. Thanks for recognizing the animals of our world.

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