Blessing Our Kin, the Animals, Who Bless Us

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reKINdling through the Blessing of the Animals

by Victoria Loorz

This month, we at Echoes are focusing on another RE word…rekindle, as in rekindling your love for your spouse after the kids move away.  That kind of rekindle.  But I’m intrigued by another use of rekindle.  As in re-KIN.  Become kin again.  It is a call to remember that we are already kin with all created beings, with all creatures and more-than-human-others.  But, because of centuries of (what I think is intentional) perceived separation, it is urgently important to remember that we belong in a larger family than a couple of parents and siblings.  We are intimately connected with All That Is.  

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Saint Francis, whose feast happened this week and in whose name the lovely Blessing of the Animals service is dedicated, was consistent in calling all Others kin:  Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wolf, Sister Starling.  Emma told a story this morning during Wild Church about how Francis went to talk to his brother, the Wolf when his human kinsmen wanted to go hunt down the wolf out of fear. Francis had a chat with his brother and the wolf didn’t bother the village again.  I want to talk to wolves like that.  Gathered among us this morning were a handful of humans, including Joanna Schmidt, our Bellinghamster guest for Monday night’s Hamster Church.  Among other gifts, she has developed a similar ability to talk to animals, and to listen to them.  6:30 pm Monday, Oct 7 at the Old Parish Hall.  Just a quick plug.  

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Joanna and her husband brought two amazing friends whom they are foster parenting until someone comes and offers these two cuddly ladies a permanent home.  Charis offered kind and holy blessings for all the wolf descendants in attendance, and a few whose photos were shared to proffer proper blessings.  Oh, it was so lovely.  The pups also were the privileged recipients of Communion Jerky that Emma got permission from Molly to share.  The body and the blood of Christ offered to all beings.  

We began Wild Church this morning with a reminder from the Old Testament, from the Book of Job, that animals and the earth herself has wisdom to share with us…if only we’d listen:

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,

or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,

or let the fish of the sea inform you.

Which of all these does not know

that the hand of the LORD has done this?

In God's hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all humankind.”

(Job 12:7-10)

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And an invocation I adapted from my friend, Gary Nabham, an eco-theologian, a Franciscan oblate, and a farmer who launches his Wild Church in southern Arizona this weekend:

Invocation for the Blessing of the Wild Animals

Our Creator is the Elder on the trail blessing the herds and flocks.  

Let us also bless the herds and the flocks!

Our Creator is the Shepard seeking out the lost, the rare and those at risk, 

Bringing them back to safety. 

Let us also care for the lost, the rare and those at risk!

Our Creator cares for the migrants facing perils and walls along their way.

Let us also pray for safe passage for all kinds of migrants.

Our Creator listens for the ones who have taken flight.

Let us also listen & support those in flight.

Let us now, each in our own turn, offers blessings and prayers for the wild animals

Who move through the lands and waters around us, enriching our own lives.

Let us bless the wild among us.

Let us bless the wild among us.

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Bless the bald eagles and the swans and other migrating birds who move cryptically among us, crossing borders and facing perils that threaten their survival. Let our prayers travel with them.

Bless the Great Blue Heron who have been displaced from their nests by construction and extraction. Let our prayers travel with them.

Bless the chum, chinook, pink, sockeye and coho who swim through our streams, whose life journeys have been interrupted by human obstruction. Let our prayers travel with them.

Bless the deer and squirrels and raccoons, the crows, ducks, rabbits and bats, and all the creatures who adapt to human-adjusted habitat and co-exist easily with us.  Protect them from cars and poisons and may they find food and safety.  Let our prayers travel with them.

Bless the orca whose hunting grounds have been decimated by overfishing and climate changes affecting the sea.  In their struggle to survive, Let our prayers travel with them.

Bless the tree frogs who swim through our streams, whose life journeys have been interrupted by human obstruction. Let our prayers travel with them.

Bless the cougars and owls, the coyotes and bears and other predators who need to be stealth and stay hidden to survive. Let our prayers travel with them.

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Bless the domestic animals on farms and in our homes.  May we be compassionate friends and care for them, as they companion with us. Let our prayers be with them.

And, as our Benediction, we heard from Father Zossima, the great priest from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s brilliant novel, The Brothers Karamazov:

“Every blade of grass, every insect, ant, and golden bee, all so marvelously know their path; though they have not intelligence, they bear witness to the mystery of God and continually accomplish it them-selves.”

“Love all of God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals. Love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will soon perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”

Thank you.  What a blessing and honor to share these sacred moments with friends, human, dog, bluejay, black squirrel, and all.  

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Amen.

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A Few More Thoughts on Gathering

Image from UnSplash!

Image from UnSplash!

The Gospel text in the Lutheran Lectionary (cycle of Bible readings) this past Sunday was Luke 15: 1-10 or the parable about the shepherd who has 99 sheep that flock as they should and one sheep that wanders off into the night. The shephard abandon’s the good sheep in search for the one that has gone it’s own way. Jesus was using this story to talk to the self-righteous people of his time about why he was hanging out with sinners, the wrong sort, or the undesirables.

This text has been used by others to also stress that we are all sinners. That if you really really repent, then there will be happiness in heaven. Sometimes it has also been used to tell the people in the congregation that they need to go out and save sinners, even if it might be against their will, because well, the shepherd always knows better. Both of these readings of Luke can be off putting. Especially for many of us who have suffered at the hands of religious people who either always told us we were only sinners, or that we weren’t working hard enough to convert other people.

It is with this human-centered perspective that we often come to the text as well. We focus on either being one of the 99 well behaved sheep or maybe the one rebel sheep. Maybe you are the sheep who was inspired by Fleetwood Mac and decided to “Go Your Own Way.” And these are often the only two roles we see: good and bad. Well-behaved and troublesome. Normal and weird.

We are so focused on the sheep in this parable that we forget all about what Jesus is doing in the story. Jesus as the shepherd is gathering all of the sheep in one place. Gathering. Gathering up. Collecting. Rounding up. Congregating. Now that last word, is also related to congregation, which comes from the Latin “congregare” or ‘collect into a flock.’ A fold. The body of Christ.

Let’s focus our attention on becoming like Jesus in the coming weeks. Not to correct. Not to reprimand. Not to scold others for going astray, but simply embracing them. Gathering them into our arms. Making a larger space in our lives for other people we encounter. By doing this, we will be adding them into the worship we have here and now among one another. Adding them into the body of the Living God who continues to be among us at all times.

By Jory Mickelson

September is for RE/membering

Image from UnSplash

Image from UnSplash

Most of us, when we see the word remember, will look back into our past for memories. But re-membering can have many other meanings as well. My favorite among these, is the idea of re-gathering, or bringing together again. Where member means to make whole. For it is in community, that we are truly made whole.

At Echoes gathering together each week in often its own unique experience. I would go so far as to say that at Echoes gathering is a special grace or spiritual gift that we offer to people.

Echoes is about welcome. No matter where you are coming from, no matter where you have been, we welcome you. We hold out our hand to embrace you. I know in my own discovering of Echoes, I had undergone some trauma in another religious congregation. I was not feeling welcomed.

And Echoes took me just as I was in the moment. No need to apologize for coming in emotionally messy. No need to put on anything other than street clothes. Echoes was there as something between a place of worship and a spiritual refuge.

I could worship with all of you and authentically be myself. I was seen. I was held. I was gathered together with everyone else into the embrace of the Loving One.

Lots of organizations use community as a buzzword. Even the ELCA Lutheran denomination, of which Echoes is a part, recognizes that one of the four parts of every worship service is Gathering.

But what does that look like in practice? For Echoes, it takes many forms.

-We gather outdoors for worship and deep gratitude once a month in Wild Church.

-We gather together at the pub for discussion and fellowship with Pub Theology.

-We gather together to get messy with art supplies during Creative Church.

-We gather together to meet new people in the Bellingham community through our Hamster Church.

No matter what gathering together may look like, we welcome you. Having experienced the unique spiritual gift of gathering that Echoes offers, I make it my mission to continue to offer it to you. It is my hope and my job as a member of Echoes to continue to offer this gift to others as it was so freely offered to me.

If you are feeling alone this week, if you are feeling a bit down, if you are feeling a bit off or out of place, we invite you to our next Echoes gathering. But even more importantly we encourage you to reach out. We would love to hear from you.

We would love the opportunity to embrace you, wherever you may be at in the present moment.

By Jory Mickelson