Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Take Your Pets to Church Day -- Feast of St. Francis : Sunday October 4th

The official "Feast Day" of St. Francis in the Catholic church is October 4th. This Sunday in many Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal churches -- and some other congregations who enjoy and honor the tradition, animals are welcomed and will get a special blessing from the clergy.

I love the story of St. Francis. In the 1200's, after returning from the wars, he stood up to his rich parents and left the family wealth and comfort behind to live in poverty among the poor. He chose to live gently in the world. He spent time with people that no one cared about. He loved the earth and was enraptured by it. And he talked with the animals.

St. Francis is most well known for his love of animals and his deep love for the earth. His commitment was not just to meditate upon the wonders of the earth, but to engage himself in healing what he could. How one lived was more important to him than what one said. He is known for saying: "Preach the Gospel at all times. Where necessary, use words."

The most well-known film about St Francis takes its name from his "Canticle for the Creatures": Brother Sun, Sister Moon, directed by Franco Zefferelli.

St Francis "got it" about a lot of things, way back in the 13th century. He is perhaps best known for his prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


But I always think of him as the animal loving saint. My images of him are deeply sentimental ones -- a bird perches on his arm, as an adoring dog is at his feet. He speaks to a deer who understands him. But can that be possible?

Years ago I was at a Buddhist shrine in Hawaii. The grounds were lovely, and there was a wide koi pond. A small old man was standing near the pond, dressed in shabby clothes. He had a sweet quality, though, so when he started a conversation with me, I felt happy to be invited into it.

"I have a pet fish," he said. The pond was teeming with hundreds an hundreds of koi fish -- maybe thousands. "Oh?" I said humoring him, not wanting to offend him. He seemed harmless enough. "You don't believe me," he said matter-of-factly.

He stepped to the shore and whistled, and clapped his hands. I saw a ripple on the water bee-lining itself toward him from midway across the pond. "Watch," he said. he then walked along the water, calling to his fish. The fish followed him, leaping out of the water as he went. "See?" he asked. "I see!" I replied.

"Now watch," he said. He stood beneath a tree near me and softly hummed. Before long a bird flew over from another tree on the grounds and landed on his hand. He kept humming, and the bird stayed there -- content, gazing at him. Then he released the bird into the air with a gentle wave of his hand.

"May I ask who you are?" I asked. "No one in particular," he said, smiling.

And I knew that I was in the presence of someone saintly, someone who revered nature in a special and deeply loving way -- with a patient and understanding love -- someone who did not expect it to be anything but its own true self. And Nature responded, loving him in return. He was someone a lot like St. Francis.

I love the magic that can happen between a human and a chosen animal creature. The bond is like no other, as anyone who has lost a beloved pet can tell. What a fitting way to remember the life of St. Francis, a man who chose to do no more harm in the world, than with something s gentle as the pet-blessings that will be happening all over the world on Sunday.

And I treasure those houses of worship that bless pets and animals this coming Sunday. Good for them! To me, to have a pet blessed is to have an acknowledgment that they are an important part of the family of G-d. It is a tribute to their hearts and to their giving natures.

As I browsed the web I noticed that many churches, synagogues and even Buddhist temples hold pet blessings. Many are combining it with a collection for the local pet shelters of pet blankets or pet food. Some even have adoptable pets on site. Check your local papers for listings, or call a few of the larger churches in your area.

Or, just gaze into your pet's loving eyes and say a thankful prayer for their well-being.

This article on eHowis a fine resource on how to attend or hold your own pet blessing .

This is a a listing (partial) of Catholic churches around the country holding pet blessings this Sunday (or in some cases, Saturday)


Many of you may recall the BBC series Vicar of Dibly. Geraldine, the vicar, has decided to hold a Blessing of the Animals. The powerful head of the church council is opposed. Geraldine goes ahead, but fears it will be a failure. This is a 10 minute video of what happens on the fateful day of the Blessing.

Oh, and I will be taking Zoe, my rescue pooch (hard to tell who rescued whom sometimes) to be blessed on Sunday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rest in Peace, Mary Travers

Mary Travers died at age 72. Her music with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stucky was part of my growing-up music. Before she passed, she said:
"I'm not sure I want to be singing 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' when I'm 75. But I know I'll still be singing 'Blowin' in the Wind.' "

Remember her with me, and pray that eternal light will shine upon her loving soul.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On September 11th

I was there that day. My office was 10 blocks away. I saw it happen as I was driving around the long traffic-filled curve heading into the Lincoln Tunnel from the Jersey side. I thought it was so odd -- this low white cloud -- until I realized it was a building on fire. Then the second plane hit. I pulled into the tunnel, and by the time I made it to 5th Avenue, heading downtown, the streets were almost empty of vehicles, and the streets were lined with people trying frantically to call their loved ones. Straight ahead of me was one of the towers, a diagonal gash in it, pouring fire.

I remember all of it. I remember every horrible bit.

And I want it to be over. I am tired to death of memorial events ripping open that wound every year.

I am tired of worrying what the families feel of firefighters and police and rescue workers whose loved ones died on ORDINARY days, days when we were not under attack. Their loved ones don't get regaled as heros every year. Their families didn't get millions of dollars of funds distributed to them.

Yet they are no less deserving. It took no less courage for them to run into the tower a few years before 9/11 at the first bombing incident. Or to run into a burning house, or apartment building. Or to be in a car chase with armed felons.

I'm tired of all the agruing about the memorial site. No group of mourners will ever be 100% in happy agreement about it. Stop trying to make that happen. Build the best one you can and be done.

I'm tired of the anti-Arab sentiment that gets ginned up every anniversary of 9/11.

I'm tired of us holding up 9/11 like it is the worst loss to an enemy any country in this decade or so has ever gone through. Look around -- the world is full of losses even bigger than this, and they are still happening.

I know that we must know history to not repeat it. But we must stop repeating the story long enough to move forward, and long enough for the wound to heal, and not become some festering national touchstone.

Let those who lost people in this wretched and senseless tragedy grieve them. Let them find some respite for themselves.

I don't want the loss to be our icon -- I want our recovery to have that place.

Dear Lord,
Please heal us. Teach us to remember the dead and to honor their memory -- without making this day into a day when we tear open that which could be healing, and when we divide that which should be united. Let us honor all who died trying to save others -- not just few. Let us remember without getting mired down in the past. Let us remember yesterday, but with today's eyes. We ask you for this or for something even more healing than we can imagine today. Thank you, Lord, and amen.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

arghhh...a dream gets dashed

All my life I have wanted to take a pottery course -- you know, the one with the potter's wheel? I finally decided that I would. I signed up a couple of months ago for a continuing ed course taught at a local studio. I have been looking forward to it all summer. I dealt with any fear I had about looking/feeling clumsy because every new potter probably looks like an idiot. The friend I was going to take the class with, had to back out.

But there I was tonight, showing up alone and sooooo happy.

There were four of us in the class, a nice small group. The instructor in the tiny studio seemed lovely.

At one point I thought I saw something moving behind my left shoulder, but didn't see anything when I turned around. It must have been a trick of the light, I thought.

Then my eyes began to water a bit -- must be the dust.

My asthma started to appear just the tiniest bit. No worry, I thought.

Then my eyes started to itch.

Then I saw it -- about 20 minutes in to the class, I saw it.

A big, fat, gray rabbit the size of a turkey. It was mammoth! I swear it must have weighed a least 25 pounds.

And it was hairy.

I am severely allergic to rabbits. I mean severely.

I had allergy tests done this summer and all rodents are on my personal enemy list -- mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, squirrels and RABBITS.

This rabbit has lived in the studio for over 3 years. There is rabbit dander everywhere.

Oh damn.

I resigned the course.

Now I need to find a teaching potter in the area who is affordable and has no rabbits. Or rodents. Or cats. (Cats are also on the hit list.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Mourning Ted in Massachusetts

I stood at a farm stand in western Massachusetts this weekend and asked, "This is the orchard where Ted's plane crashed in 1964, isn't it?"

The proprietor looked at me and said "Yes."

That's it, just the word "yes".

I reminded myself that I am back in New England, a land of economies, even in speech. I bought a small bag of apples and left.

A news article gives more detail:

Jean Bashista of Bashista Apple Orchards, recalls that night and how her sister-in-law helped the injured senator, as he lay on the ground after the crash, before medical personnel arrived. Bashista said after the plane crash her father-in-law and her father got rid of the orchard at the crash site. Today it is a wooded area.

Ted was heading for a small airport in the town in which I currently live, when his plane crashed. His experience at a local hospital lasted over three weeks until he could be safely moved. His experience there was so positive that it is said to have been the pivotal event that inspired his thinking about health care.

I'm from Massachusetts. I lived away from this state for about 30+ years and have recently moved back. It was with deep sadness that I watched the memorial and funeral events for Ted Kennedy. The Kennedy name is almost synonymous with Massachusetts. We are theirs and they are ours, so to speak.

I wasn't born yet when Joe Jr was killed in WWII, but I was in junior high when JFK was assassinated, and in college when a bullet took Bobby. Ted is the only son of Rose and Joe Sr to not die a violent death.

I do not know how a family winds its way so deeply into the spirit of a place, but the Kennedys surely have. It feels somehow wrong to not have a Kennedy as a senator in Massachusetts.

Oh, yes, we all knew that Kennedy had stepped beyond what was proper in his personal life.

And we didn't like it. And we did not forget it.

But, as my sister-in-law succinctly said, "Despite it all, he voted the way we wanted him to." Those of us in this state who are liberals knew that we could count on Ted to vote the way he promised he would. He could nimbly cross party lines, assemble broad-ranging support and see things through. We may have hesitated before we pulled the lever for Kennedy because of his problems, but we pulled it because of his politics.

His second marriage seemed to settle his personal life down, and we were thankful for that. Relieved. As he said in his recent letter to Pope Benedict, carried by President Obama to the Pope-- “I know that I have been an imperfect human being," Kennedy wrote, “but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path."

And, as far as most of us in this state were concerned, he did turn things around. Many Massachusetts highway signs -- the ones controlled by computer -- on the day of his burial were changed to read "Thanks, Ted." People wore T-shirts that day that said. "Thanks, Ted."

As we all watched television Friday and Saturday, it was especially moving to see the White House staffers, each waiting for a chance to shout out a final "Thank You, Ted". In the days following his death, the small stories began to come out -- the former staffer who went on to the Supreme Court (Stephen Breyer) -- a family he had personally helped through a long illness -- the visits he made to the families of military men and women lost at war -- the personal letters sent to encourage, congratulate, console. We learned of the quiet acts of compassion from this larger-than-life politician.

In the words of President Obama's eulogy:

Ted Kennedy has gone home now, guided by his faith and by the light of those he has loved and lost. At last he is with them once more, leaving those of us who grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept alive, and a single, enduring image – the image of a man on a boat; white mane tousled; smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for what storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon. May God Bless Ted Kennedy, and may he rest in eternal peace.
Site Feed