Spiritual Lessons from Animals, continued

Further spiritual lessons that animals share with us include the following:

Portrait of a bear; ancient symbol of healing and strength. Photo by Mohamed Elsayed on Unsplash.

That climbing Jacob’s ladder is unnatural. Have you ever known an animal (other than the two-legged one) who liked to climb ladders? They know better. They know their place and ours is on the earth, eye to eye with the rest of the gifted creatures of the land and sea. Why would animals climb ladders when everything they need the Creator has put on earth?

I once saw a bear climb a stair case in a circus when men made him do so. He was so afraid and so not-at-home when he got to the top stair, in front of us all, he peed from fright and discomfort. The audience laughed at this but the bear knew: there was nothing at the top of the ladder!

Black Elk teaches that “the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.”

Humor. Animals bring humor into our lives, a radical, celebrative awareness of dialectic and paradox. Animals, I am convinced, love to make us human animals laugh. They are often well aware, in my opinion, of what makes us laugh. Animals are truly holy in their way, for all full humor is reflection of the divine good humor. Animals have very often a richer sense of humor than some persons.

Silent Dignity. Animals have a sense of their own worth and dignity—a pride at their own unique existence that subtly suggests that no one ever preached to them about original sin.

The joy of a dog riding in the car on an adventure! Photo by Ja San Miguel on Unsplash.

As a result they appear at home with silence, with themselves and with solitude. I have been amazed to observe how many animals come out to watch the sun set–ducks, birds, dogs and God knows how many smaller creatures have a contemplative side to them that the human species of late has all but forgotten. 

Hildegard of Bingen says that “there is no being that lacks an interior life.”  This is quite a blunt observation.  It is surely worth meditating on—and examining. 

In the past three DM’s, we have considered just ten spiritual teachings from animals.  People in the Comments pages have added their own.  Altogether, these are only an introduction to a weighty and much neglected subject.

What is clear is that God has blessed our animals and blessed us through the animals. For “the Lord is good to all and compassionate towards all his works” (Ps. 145).  And these works, at least some of them, are compassionate back.

How are we humans doing in this regard?

Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion, pp. 167f, “From Climbing Jacob’s Ladder to Dancing Sarah’s Circle,” pp. 36-67.  And Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 214-220.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Lions enjoying some play time. Photo by Will Shirley on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Is it your experience too that animals are more into Sarah circle dynamics than climbing ladders?  And the Power of the World always works in circles?

Recommended Reading

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

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

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15 thoughts on “Spiritual Lessons from Animals, continued”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today we continue on with more spiritual lessons that animals share with us. Another one, not mentioned yesterday, is that “climbing Jacob’s ladder” is unnatural. The Four-legged ones were not meant to walk on their hind legs. Instead of climbing Jacob’s ladder, they were meant to be, as you say, “dancing Sarah’s circle.” However, then you quote the Lakota holy man, Back Elk as saying: “the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.” Animals also bring humor into our lives, and they Silent Dignity. Animals have a “pride” at their own unique existence that suggests that no one ever preached to them about original sin… So you ask us, “Is it your experience too that animals are more into Sarah circle dynamics than climbing ladders? And the Power of the World always works in circles?” No, while it does seem that animals are “dancing” rather than climbing ladders, the Power of the World always works its way up, climbing the ladder of success–meaning more money and more power. But all that aside, in view of animals, what is clear is that God has blessed our animals and blessed us through the animals. So, how are we humans doing in this regard? Definitely not as good as we could and should be doing !

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      Matthew, thank you for again helping us appreciate and value Indigenous spirituality and wisdom which has been around for most of human history around the world to the present time, especially their deep sacred interconnection to Mother Earth, All Her creatures, and source/sustenance of All Life (including our own), and the Cosmos… Then around 6000 years ago, unbalanced, toxic, egocentric, destructive patriarchal values and societies started increasingly separating us from this Divine Loving relationship/communion Present within and among us in All Mother Nature and the Cosmos… Now in modern times we’re having to deal with the consequential existential crises of climate/environmental catastrophes because of the pollution of our planet by our global patriarchal industrial civilization which is imminently collapsing. Now, personally and communally we all have to return to those universal Indigenous spiritual values of deep sacred connection to Mother Earth and the Cosmos in compassionate relationships within and among us with All Life in God’s Spirit of Loving Diverse Oneness… (probably and hopefully in smaller communities around the world)….

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      The animals that I have known have simply gone about the business of being themselves. They work, they rest, they play, they reproduce and some such as insects are the unseen and unappreciated essential workers( consider bees and ants for instance).
      I have never seen animals in board meetings deciding how they can squeeze one more penny for profit out of those who can least afford it.

      1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
        Richard Reich-Kuykendall

        Barb, I love your description–“I have never seen animals in board meetings deciding how they can squeeze one more penny for profit out of those who can least afford it.” Human, All Too Human or Imago Dei ???

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    We talk about the ongoing bonds with our loved ones. How many of us might include also, the animals — pets, the blessings of the animals, birds, butterflies, insects – in nature living around us? I sense this with the ongoing presence with beloved humans who have graced my life, and especially with beloved pets who continue to be an indescribable presence of love and warmth.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Steve, I agree: “We talk about the ongoing bonds with our loved ones. How many of us might include also, the animals — pets, the blessings of the animals, birds, butterflies, insects – in nature living around us?” And I say, Why not? The Dear old woman who lived across the street from my wife and I died a couple of months ago and had her dogs (who had passed on before her) cremated with her. She had no children… And I still sense her presence…

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    I was thinking the same thing that Matthew points out, that animals bless us. It seems almost arrogant to think that they need our formal yearly blessing in church, although it is a beautiful and moving service. It is interesting that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also speaks of the circle as being the foundation of much in space and in nature. From indigenous wisdom comes the listening circle, and the church to which I belong is badly injured and is offering a listening circle to help people heal. Since it is a Presbyterian church, know to be peopled by some known as the frozen chosen or chosen frozen, I pray that enough highly educated and orderly folks reach down into their hearts and get out of their heads!

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    Matthew, Not for a moment to contradict your assertion that animals don’t or won’t climb ladders, but we had a dog that did. Emily was an energetic border collie who who would climb 12 feet up a ladder in the barn on our farm, to a loft, whenever I or someone else went first. She did it deftly and without any noticeable hesitation. The ladder wasn’t quite vertical but only on a very slight angle, so almost vertical. You might ask how Emily got down. No, she didn’t back down the ladder or try to go head first! She knew better. There was always a large pile of loose straw nearby that she would safely jump into when it was time to leave the loft. Emily died too young at the age of 10, and we miss her.

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    One of my best friends is an Episcopal Deacon. A couple of weeks ago, her church held the Blessing of the Animals and asked her to do it. She took along her 6 year-old granddaughter to “help”. At one point, my friend was distracted, and when she turned back, she noticed a dog had come by. She voiced her concern to her granddaughter that the dog had not been blessed. “Oh, I blessed him” her granddaughter replied airily. So children and animals have much to teach us.

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    I have always felt that my connection to animals is spiritual. I have had the privilege of being able to be with a variety of animals. At one point I rescued monkeys. I guess categorized as non-human primates.I could write a whole book about them. I did not try and make them do anything, I just observed, and learned their personality and how they function.
    One of them was a female spider monkey. She was scared to death when I adopted her. She clung to me as if her life depended on me, for about two years. (The length of time it takes them to not need their mothers anymore). She had the most amazing sense of humor. I had three others also.,
    My first one, Amber, a tiny squirrel monkey gave herself the responsibility of protecting me day and night…on and on. I always ask people what makes them smile. Me, seeing an animal. What causes me to break down in tears, is
    anything that hurts animals, birds, insects, fish, etc.

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    I am one whom moves in circular consciousness. Through my apprenticeship within Native Spirituality, I learnt of these natural cyclical movements, as the wheels and keys of knowledge and wisdom were always taught within the circle. This circular consciousness, aligns you with the natural movements of the moon and the sun, the changing seasons, the movement of the planet’s, basically the natural ebb and flow of change, within the great webb of life. The animals follow these circular movements most naturally. I also learnt about what is called your birth totem animals, whom are your spiritual allies in this lifetime, that resonate with your position of birth on the medicine wheel. Connecting with the gift of these animals, helps me learn about the different movements, qualities and characteristics of energy within myself, as I dance within the circle of life. I’ve learnt alot about myself and how to embrace these natural movements through engaging with this spirituality of circle consciousness, through the ritual and ceremonies of sharing circles. I’ve also learnt about this circular consciousness through the archetypal energies of the Goddess traditions, shared within women’s circles, whom have walked in the descending and ascending spiral of the circle, passing on their womb wisdom, from one generation to the next; amidst must oppression, suppression and condemnation for centuries.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, You speak of circular consciousness but there is also “circular reasoning,” which isn’t a good thing (I’m just thinking of different kinds of circles). And, you speak of the Medicine Wheel but now that we are in fall and nearing Samhain (which means “summers end” and is the same as the Eve of All Saint’s Day). And what does that have to do with anything ??? Samhain is part of the Wheel of the Year–along with the solstices , equinoxes and Celtic quarter days–one such being Samhain, Halloween or the eve of All Saint’s Day !!!

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    Today I went to Farmaste Animal Sanctuary. https://www.farmaste.org/visit
    What impressed me at first was that the animals had all overcome serious injury. But then I noticed how many volunteers there were to make sure that the animals were taken care off. When I doubt human nature I run into people who volunteer like that.
    It was a blessed visit.

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