Of Coyotes, Mice, Saint Francis, and Blessing of the Animals

Artist: Leo Politi (Mural on Olvera St., L.A., California)

September 18, 2010

She trots along a windrow to front and side of the tractor.  Pewter gray along the back, her hair lightened as it moved down her side to the belly.  As the dark gray hair slide off her back and down her tail it lightened a little then in the last four inches burst black and bushy.  Pushing up the neck, gray gave way to the brownish gold of newly cut cedar as it slipped between her ears.  Flowing down and across her cropped sleek face, darker and lighter hair blended giving modeled overtones before ending at her black nose.  Trotting, she dives into the windrow, here and then there, after a field mouse who lost its home in the cutting of hay.  The high shady protective alfalfa landscape, home to mice, voles, and gophers, has changed to an open barren landscape as the swather cuts and sweeps hay into windrows and leaving little more than three-inch stems behind.  The only protective cover left for a mouse or a vole is the windrows, and they are unfamiliar space.

A similar truth holds for the coyote.  After hunting the last month and a half in growing hay fields for, she also finds her landscape disrupted.  Where yesterday she could hunt concealed by tall alfalfa, like the mouse, she now is exposed.  Her eyes dart regularly at the tractor as she moves down a windrow.  Hunting is now a risky venture.  A 22 or other varmint rifle is not uncommon in a tractor or swather when cutting hay, and for many, the coyote is a varmint.  How deep, how intense is a hunger that brings her as close as five or six feet from me while hunting the windrow?  Or does she know the farm a safe landscape worked to allow for her wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of the voles, moles, and field mice she hunts?  I hope the latter.

Whatever potential danger there is from the one operating the tractor the coyote realizes the hunt is easier now.  She knows the lives of those whom she hunts are as disrupted as hers.  Trotting the windrow she watches for telltale movement of one whose world has been destructed and knows their own may not be far away.  Fear and nervousness are at their height for a mouse at this time—their world is destroyed and they must question when to move, when to run, when to stay still?  And the coyote knows this.  Seeing movement in a windrow, she is far away to see the mouse; so, she stands where she last saw alfalfa leaves move.  Waiting.  Crouched in the hay, the mouse waits as well, struggling with its own emotions and questions: Does the coyote see me?  Is it about to pounce?  Do I stay still or run?—the answer is a matter of life and death.  Sometimes the field mice outwait (or outwit?) the coyote, sometimes not.

Creation has a natural equality that is sometimes wonderful and sometime harsh.  Sadly, this creative equality is mostly lost today, partly due to or maybe mostly due to the faith of my childhood and ordination.  Genesis tells a story of human creation given the responsibility to name animals.  It is a story that has led to two Christian worldviews of dominion.  The first calls humanity to control animal wellbeing.  This hierarchal worldview places animals at a level lower than that of humans.  At this level, animals are objects of control—their creation is to benefit humans.  The second worldview is also hierarchal, but with a twist.  Humanity is the preferred creation whose better state calls for a dominion of caring for animal wellbeing.  In this case humanity creation is to benefit animals.  While control and caring are different, neither visualizes humanity and animals as created equals.  Rather control and caring both give humanity power over animals with a responsibility to dictate their wellbeing.

The coyote and the field mouse speak to something different.  Both might struggle with humanity in the landscape of their lives.  But neither need humanity to control their actions nor care for their wellbeing.  They get along just fine without human dominion.

Saint Francis of Assisi is credited for helping Christianity move away from a worldview of dominion being one of control to one of care.  However, stories from the Fioretti (Little Flowers) of Saint Francis, a collection of popular legends of Saint Francis, helps light a path that might help humanity move beyond care to equality.  One story tells of Saint Francis preaching to his “sisters the birds”:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests.  And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly.  Therefore… always seek to praise God.

Apparent in this legend, Saint Francis preaches to the birds as he would preach to humans.  Saint Francis is confident the birds understand his words as well as they understand one another.  What might be gained from this story is an insight to a total lack of creational hierarchy and rather the fullness of creational equality.  Saint Francis preaches to the birds as he does to humans because the radical created equality of the Creator allows for the understanding of the voice of all of creation by all creation.

Living into such a radical created equality moves humanity from an imagined creative equality to an experienced equality.  In such equality, creation intentionally listens closely and carefully to one another.  In this deeper relationship, the voice of Creator becomes clearer and authentic.  In this state of reality, legend slips away, and story moves from miracle or metaphor, to the normal, natural voice of Creator and Creation.

Hearing creation anew with the ears of modern society is not easy.  A coyote trotting alongside the tractor is a gift, but the coyotes voice, should it choose to speak, cannot be heard over the din of a tractors engine.  Hearing the voice of the coyote or the bird or the field mouse may remain in the imagination for the time being, but steps can be taken to reframe our ears.

The celebration of Blessing of the Animals is an opportunity of reframing ears.  Blessing animals who are closest to us, mentally and emotionally, is a step towards wholeness.  When we give those animals of creation who are closest to us, who have our greatest attention—dogs, cats, horses, fish—a blessing as we would give our children we are better able to imagine an equality of creation where one day the bear, salmon, deer, hawk, coyote, and field mouse is again understood as sister and brother.

The celebration of Blessing of the Animals is not new, nor unique, but it is new and unique to the JustLiving Farm.  On October 3, 2010, the JustLiving Farm will offer a time of celebration and worship in a service of Blessing of the Animals.  This Sunday afternoon, from 3pm until 5pm you are welcome to bring your companion animal, service animal, or farm animal to the JustLiving Farm for a blessing.  Pastors from the Christian traditions of Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, and Methodist will join us in blessing and giving blessing to the Creators creatures.  Come and join us in a blessing recognizing the fullness of creation where for a moment we might fully accept our sister bird, brother coyote, uncle cat, aunt dog, or cousin turtle.

All are welcomed, four legged and two legged, feathered and fin, wiggling and waggling.  Come and spend a time of joyfulness, laughter, and sacredness.

Blessing of the Animals
October 3, 2010
3pm until 5pm
JustLiving Farm
9000 Campbell Road
Toppenish, WA 98948

Please RSVP to dave@justlivingfarm.org.

© David B. Bell 2010

9 thoughts on “Of Coyotes, Mice, Saint Francis, and Blessing of the Animals

      1. That, and also invention/communication for the world’s collective cognition as new revelations and religions about what “really matters” from this blessed blessing point in time and space

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  1. Good stuff! I’ll be there! Another way to speak of the difference is a move from a Benedictine stewardship of creation to a Franciscan vision of fellowship with creation. Have you read the one about Francis’ conversation with the wolf of Gubbio? Another wonderful story.

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    1. Yes, the wolf of Gubbio is another that helps us wonder what might occur if we choose to speak plainly to creation. Thanks for the thought of moving from a Benedictine stewardship of creation to a Franciscan vision of fellowship with creation. I can give that some thought!

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  2. You might sneak a human being or two in among the animals. Like all other animals they need a similar blessing I would think.
    For the Moment…

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