|St. Francis of Assisi|
October 4th every year is the feast day of St. Francis, a day set aside to remember and celebrate the life of the beloved Christ-follower and patron saint of animals. (A "feast day" is the formal term for a Church holiday; for instance, Easter is also known as the Feast of the Resurrection. For more traditional churches there are feast days all over the year, commemorating dozens of saints and events.)
At Grace UMC we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis each year with our annual Blessing of the Animals service, a fun, unique service that's held near or on the feast day, depending on how the weekend falls. For this service, folks are invited to bring their pets (or other domesticated critters) to the church for a little prayer and singing, followed by a chance for each animal to receive an individual blessing. In the United Methodist Church, we generally say something like 'Bless, O Lord, this creature, and fill our hearts with thanksgiving for its life'. We just had the service this past Saturday, and you can read a bit about it and see some pictures here.
While I was getting ready for an afternoon of asking God's blessing on these animals, I couldn't help thinking of how, so often in scripture, it works the other way around: God uses the animals as a blessing to us. Elijah would have starved without those ravens (1 Kgs 17:2-6); Jonah would have drowned without that big fish (Jon 1:15, 17); Balaam would have been toast without his famous talking ass (Num 22:21-33).
The circumstances may be a little less dramatic, but this is really still the case today, isn't it? The Lord frequently uses animals to bless us. And that's something to celebrate and give thanks for. So I'm wondering: how have you seen animals be a blessing to you or to others? Please share - don't keep God's works hidden from the rest of us!
I stumbled onto a story of animal blessings last week that really is of almost biblical proportions. In Tanzania, one organization is training rats (yes, rats) to sniff out old land mines. You read that right. These rats are busy detecting the lethal explosives in places like Mozambique, where there are still innumerable land mines unaccounted for after a 15 year civil war that ended in the early 90s. The rats can clear a 200 square-foot area in less than an hour - a human working to detect the mines in the same area would be at work for about 50 hours. There are some pictures, as well as details on how rats are being trained to identify people who test positive for TB (!), in a news article here.
You'd be surprised at the stories about gorillas and pigs I heard this week too. But what stories have you got to share? How has God used his creatures as a blessing in your life or the life of someone you know?