Today is St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day so it seems fitting to continue our meditations on spirituality and animals. I wrote this list of spiritual lessons animals teach us over 40 years ago for my book on Compassion, but I don’t think they have grown stale. Spirituality does not readily go out of date.
Francis’ feast day is often celebrated by a “Blessing of animals” when people are invited to bring their pets to church for a blessing. Ministers have told me that very often more people come to church on that day than any other day in the year! I once attended such an event at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in New York City (Thomas Berry preached) and the array of animals that paraded with their keepers down the aisle was memorable—ranging from snakes to hawks to hamsters—and even an elephant (who was not living in someone’s apartment however).
What are some spiritual lessons animals teach us?
That it is good to be. And good to be an animal. Some of the happiest creatures I know are animals and they do not hesitate to demonstrate their joy at living.
Ecstasy without guilt. Animals can truly let go and let be and even celebrate without guilt feelings as “wasted time” or at letting their masks down. Indeed, they instruct us in realizing that intensity of living is more important than duration.
Play is an adult thing to do and needs no justification. In his study Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez tells the story of observing a wolf spend over an hour playing with a piece of dry caribou hide, tossing it in the air as we do frisbees. He saw wolves chase ducks amidst splashing of wings and water—all in fun.
My dog once caught a squirrel—not to eat it—but to play with it. Though the squirrel was quite traumatized by my dog’s invitation, he nevertheless went away completely unharmed.
Non-verbal communication. Animals are experts at the non-verbal—their language is mime, tone of voice and dance. And a truthful language it can be, also. Max Scheler comments on the meaning of a dog expressing “its joy by barking and wagging its tail, or a bird by twittering.” We have here “a universal grammar, valid for all languages of expression, and the ultimate basis of understanding for all forms of mime and pantomime among living creatures.”
To be continued
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion, pp. 166-167.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: Stained glass image of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo by Jim McIntosh on Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
What are your experiences with learning spirituality from animals?
A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice
In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register