Pets and Spirituality: How Companion Animals Inspire Us
We’ve all had them, pets who mean as much to us as a family member. The faithful, loving feline who acts more like man’s best friend than an aloof cat; the unwavering loyalty of canine trust and attention, even the humble hermit crab who seems to be aware of your every thought. These are more than pets, they are confidants who never judge decisions and always deliver unconditional love at the most compelling times. Are these just animals? Or are they spiritual support without ever saying a word? They inspire us, encourage us and comfort us, without ever seeming to try. They stay up late while we study and keep us company while we workout, clean and carry on the mundane.
In a recent Huffington Post article titled “Companion Animals and Spirituality” by Michael Gilmour, a university English and Biblical literature professor, the reader is presented with some very thought provoking points, using poetic references that support the connection between pets and the human spirit.
Gilmour first discusses predominant Christian thinking as that of an exclusively human perspective. However, he proposes that spirituality is more of a “communion of individuals with the world around them, including animals”. He goes on to give a very personal example, that he suspects more have shared than not, of an illness and subsequent loss of an important family member—Tiger, his greyhound.
In addition to the feelings of devastation that accompanies the loss of a pet, Gilmour also sites how animals in our lives can inspire spiritual behavior. He states, “These creatures have a remarkable capacity to disrupt self-centeredness, and inspire affection and appreciation.” Yet there is a very profound disconnection between Christian theology and the natural world. He points out that historically, the Church views animals in the religious life as unimportant. Not to mention its “tendency to overlook moral responsibilities toward them. However, he does elaborate on specific “biblical literature that provides plenty evidence that animals are more than ornaments in the world God made”.
Gilmour references the Book of Job as at least one striking account of the religious consequence of animals. After Job had lost everything in a whirlwind, God instructs him to look around him and observe the wide array of nonhuman species and the wonders of the natural world (Job 38-41). Job is undeniably humbled and his worldview changes focus from his sad state of affairs to his stature in the world as it relates to God.
Finally, Gilmour relates back to his own personal experience, grieving for the loss of his dog, his fearless warrior of love and how that loss actually “awakened compassion and celebration of God’s good world”. The relationship that he had with his dog reminded him that he is not the center of a God-ordered universe.