Some of the most focussed and peaceful moments of my day are with my cat, Annie. She is whole heartedly affectionate and usually demands at least a few minutes of my attention in the morning. She appears in my path on my way to get my coffee and waits. When I take a moment to connect with her she pours her whole self into showing her love for me as if she just can’t get close enough. She expects me to love her back enthusiastically. If I don’t she will gently pull my wrist with her paw or press her face to mine. Annie tunes me in to mindfulness presence and love before anything else even coffee. When I look back on my day that little bit of time connecting with Annie is often my favorite thing that happened.
I remember putting the chickens away on a stressful evening after a scary and difficult day during the time my husband was fighting cancer. I noticed my dog, Gracie, standing by my knee being supportive. I leaned over and hugged her. I could hear her breathing change to that slow, satisfied dog breathing in my ear. This was 12 years ago but I still remember that peaceful moment and the breeze that ruffled our hair making me think of the Holy Spirit coming to lift our hearts. I think the Holy Spirit did come and renew our strength.
Our dogs, Gracie and Flower understood what was going on with my husband. When he had trouble walking they flanked him on each side protectively. The night he was dying they came and checked on him every hour. They loved us. We weren’t alone. And they gave me chances to stop to breathe and pray, looking at their faces, seeing their silent steadfast love.
One busy day I changed gears and sat down in the hay with Gertrude, my red hen. We looked at each other for a while. “Chicken gaze” will make you feel strange. I think it is because their eyes are on the sides of their heads so when you make full eye contact with a chicken it feels like the universe is catywampus for a second. The again that feeling may be chickens transmitting their psychedelic world view to us somehow. Chickens are all crazy as anyone who has spent time with them knows. Gertrude and I had a moment. And then suddenly she violently tried to pull out my nose ring. After that I shared an apple with her. I took a bite, she stabbed her beak into it and took a bite too. It was cool.
As a teen I sometimes got into pastures full of cows to take pictures. I learned to be still enough they would all came close to have a look at me. I used to smile at them and talk to them a little. We would regard one another. Slowly they would move closer to me. One group after deciding I was OK came and started licking my arms and shoulders and even my face while I giggled. Maybe I was salty or maybe they were just curious. Or maybe they knew I had given up eating meat. Who knows?
Some years ago I was looking out of a window at night thinking about this and that. I noticed an owl staring at me from a branch outside. I stared back. I sat down and we kept it up. “Hey let’s pray,” I said. And I can say I meditated with an owl.
As a young angry teen I was scribbling angry stuff in my journal with the window open. I felt eyes on me so I looked up and there was a praying mantis on my window sill. As we looked at one another it slowly cocked his head continuing to gaze at me. I felt connected to the universe for a second as if I got a glimpse of something beyond myself. I still remember that strange peaceful feeling.
And at a time I really needed it a butterfly came and kissed my nose. Who could forget a moment like that?
I have heard little stories of encounters like this from so many other people. Maybe you have some stories too.
There is something spiritual about connecting with animals, about allowing them to connect with us. I think of all the saints who could communicate with animals, and of Adam and Eve who seemed able to as well.
Maybe part of the Fall and the disorder in nature that it brought, was a barrier between us and nature, between us and the animals. Maybe we were once in harmony and peace with God’s other creatures. Maybe sometimes part of us remembers, times when we are able to open our hearts to them. Maybe it’s a kind of prayer or maybe it is a gift of grace or both. The Saints often broke through the veil of separation from God. Maybe they stepped through the barrier of separateness with nature, with animals too. Sometimes when we connect with animals we get a glimpse of that world.
I still look for it every day.