Sunday, 7 October 2012

Animals: Soul Brothers and Spirit Sisters

At 7am every Tuesday morning I attend a meditation. It has become central to my personal spiritual development; it has become a key part of my week. Now some weeks as I leave the house at not long after 6.30am I don’t really want to go. I have noticed this resistance the last couple of weeks as I awake to the darkness and dampness of Autumnal mornings. This Tuesday the resistance felt particularly strong and yet as soon as I opened my front door, it seemed to instantly fade away. Why you may well ask? Well thankfully my ears tend to wake up much before my other senses and this morning I was greeted by two or three little birds singing away to their hearts content. As soon as I heard them a broad smile appeared on my face and I offered a prayer of thanks for life. They were singing the joy of living and they helped me to do the same...”We sing the joy of living, we sing the mystery”.

As a child I loved the dawn chorus, but as I grew older I somehow fell out of love with it, as I fell out of love with so many things. I began to fall for it once again as I refound my love for life and my love for music and song and as I refound my own voice. The birds would sing and I would sing back at them. Kindred spirits I reckon.

I became particularly aware of these angels, these winged messengers, these angel voices almost exactly four years ago. I was a student minister at the time, living at Luther King House in Manchester. Luther King House is a beautiful spot near to Platt Fields Park, the place where I fell in love with the Geese I wrote about in a previous blog. I will never forget how those and other simple animals took me out of myself and helped me to deal with the anxiety I faced every Thursday morning as I struggled with learning to drive. It’s amazing how just a simple walk around the park watching these creatures, just simply living, helped me to connect beyond myself and the confines of my fear.

I digress - Going back to the dawn chorus - Every Sunday morning I would begin a long trek, to Macclesfield. I was a student minister at the Unitarian congregation there. It was a long journey by bus and train and often replacement bus as they were working on the line on Sunday’s. Before leaving home I would prepare myself as I always do and yet somehow just hearing those angel voices as I left my flat seem to lift me way beyond myself and enabled me to connect and be still as I began the long adventure. Those little songs helped me to connect to my own song within me and the greater song beyond me and carried me on my journey.

Now although I am not really one for pets myself. I do appreciate what they bring to the lives of those who love them. That said for me personally animals are for the outdoors. I love and respect them deeply and they have taught me so much, especially the winged messengers. Let that Love continue long and keep on showing me the way.

I recently came across these words by Rev Cliff Reid. It’s really a prayer but it can be enjoyed in a none prayerful way. It is titled “Winged Messengers”

“Let us give thanks for the winged messengers.

With beauty of song and plumage, with grace of flight and form, they speak to us of life’s everlasting miracle, of the divine creation that never stops creating.

They speak to us of the land we live in, with voices of forest and marshland, seashore and garden; of hedgerow, heath, and moorland, reminding us of the heritage that is ours to treasure and pass on.

They speak to us of lands far away, bringing the cries of arctic wastes, the breath of streaming jungles, searing deserts, open oceans, reminding us that the world is one, without borders or divisions.

We give thanks for the winged messengers in all their variety. Let us head the messages with which god entrusts them.


Well they have certainly spoken to me over the years...when I have had ears that could hear...I know that they will always sing their songs, I just hope I am able to hear them...I just need to make sure that the ears of my ears are awake...For I know that if I listen with the ears of my heart...the language of the heart will always be heard.

We can learn so much from animals. The word animal itself come from the Latin “animalis” which means “having a soul”; it is closely linked to “animus” which in its feminine root means “breath” or “spirit”. Now of course many people will deride any idea of soul or spirit, certainly in animals and also humans. The reductionists say we are just flesh and bone. I once felt this way myself, but not anymore. I see this same spirit that I see in humans in animals too, more and more so actually. Just as when I lovingly engage with fellow humans I feel this spirit come to life, so I increasingly find this same spirit in operation in nature and animals too. In my case with the birds, but other animals as well and I seem more aware of it this autumn, than ever before.

Anyone who has spent real time with animals will tell you that they do indeed have a soul, a spirit. That we can learn so much from them and that they are very much alive, full of curiosity and totally in tune with their senses. They have emotion too, they feel just as we feel. They suffer grief, guilt, anger, disappointment, fear and anger as well as joy contentment, excitement and gratitude. They care for their families and loved ones as well as those beyond their families. They can display an altruistic love which can deeply touch our hearts.

In many religious traditions birds are often symbolic of spirit or soul. In Hinduism what is often understood in the west as the soul, is symbolised by birds. This is known as the Atman which refers to the eternal none material aspect of the self. This never changes and is distinct from the mind and body. This real self is beyond the temporary characteristics of race, gender, even species. Ideas about reincarnation are natural extensions of this concept. For Hindu’s consciousness, in whatever way it manifests, is merely a symptom of the soul. Therefore for the physical life to have awareness it requires the soul.

When I listen to the birds of the air or observe the animals on the ground I know that I am connected to them. They are my soul brothers and my spirit sisters.

Last Thursday 4th October was the Feast Day of St Francis, the patron saint of animals. He lived during the later 12th and early 13th century. He lived a mixed life, but following a conversion experience he devoted his life to following the Gospel. He truly was a Christian man who took the Gospel literally, not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following the teachings of Jesus and living by the way of self giving love. Francis had a deep love of animals and held them in such high esteem that he addressed them as brothers and sisters. They were his equal in every sense and he saw the same spirit in them as in all life.

There are many stories told of St Francis and his love for animals. Following his death a collection of tales, portraying his humble approach to nature, sprang up known as “Fioretti” or “Little Flowers”. “It is said that one day, while Francis was travelling with some companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to ‘wait for me while I go preach to my sisters the birds.’ The birds surrounded him, intrigued by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away.”

Echoes of Saint Francis are still with us. In fact increasingly we are seeing the benefits that a spiritual relationship with animals can give to human life.  Pets are not only considered companions to us, but healers too, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Research shows that pets can reduce stress and therefore blood pressure. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that they can help with deep trauma and emotional disturbance. Cats, dogs and birds are being increasingly used to help bring healing to emotionally disturbed children, the mentally ill, and the isolated and lonely elderly cooped up in nursing homes. It would appear that the therapeutic value of a deepening relationship with animals knows no bound. I know I have experienced it over the years and I know that many others have too.

So let us honour the animals in our lives this and every day. They bring healing and they bring love. They reveal the love that is God to us all


No comments:

Post a Comment