God’s Creatures Our Companions
Genesis 2: 15 – 24
Do we supplant our God given companions with the companions we can control?
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, there are two creation stories. The second story tells us that God created a human to look after the earth. When God saw that the human was alone and needed assistance to take care of the land God created animals to be the human’s companion and help. But the human was still lonely so God created another human to be a companion to the first human. There is wisdom here in this quaint and ancient mythological story, which is too easily dismissed by our prejudices or shallow reading. The wisdom and truth I emphasise today is this. Humankind was given the task of caring for the land and given animals as helpful companions. The land, animals and humans are bound together in a purposeful sociability. Land, animals (all creatures) and humans are to work and live together in a purposeful community.
Today we come to give thanks for and honour the wonderful companionship of the canine species. But what we will say about them is not exclusive to our canine pets. People have had special relationships with different land, water or air based species.
I was reading about the special relationship between some the British monarchs and their dogs. I wondered how much these British monarchs had formed our culture’s views on dogs. The monarchs that spring to mind are Queen Elizabeth II and her corgis and King Charles II and his preference for a small breed of spaniel which now bears his name. But have you heard of Caesar of Notts? That’s his full name – Caesar of Notts. Caesar was a small wired-haired terrier given to Edward VII when he lost his beloved dog, Jack, in 1898. Caesar won the heart of his master and ended up travelling everywhere with the king. Caesar was assigned his own footman and would sleep at night on an armchair in the King’s bedroom. When Edward VII died in 1910 Caesar wandered the palace looking for him and refused to eat. The queen engaged a vet who managed to persuade Caesar to eat. As the King’s cortège passed through the crowded streets of London following the coffin was the King’s charger, Kildare, fully saddled for riding with his master’s riding boots reversed, then came Caesar accompanied by a Highland soldier followed by the aristocracy and the rest of procession. When Caesar died a tombstone was erected over his grave with the inscription written by Queen Alexandra; Our beloved Caesar who was the King’s Faithful and Constant companion until Death, and My Greatest Comforter in my loneliness and Sorrow for Four Years after. Died 18th April 1914.
Dogs are special to us. I love it when our greyhound ‘grandchild’ is dropped off for us to look after. I enjoy her company and love our early morning romps on the beach.
Dogs exemplify for us the God intended sociability that is understood in the Bible’s Creation stories. Let’s remind ourselves of five important characteristics of a dog that point us to God’s intention for the well-being of community.
Faithfulness is a quintessential quality of dogs. They weld themselves to their owners with an unswerving dependability. The story of King Edward VII’s Caesar is a case in point and that would be replicated in countless stories around the world. A dog’s faithfulness reflects for us the faithfulness of God to humanity. Faithfulness is a critical element for the health of any community.
Acceptance is another redeeming quality in our dogs. Dogs can teach us a lot about acceptance. They do not care what we look like and accept us in all forms of dress and mood. They wear their hearts on their sleeves with the simplicity of enduring love. They will not let you cry alone. They sense our sadness or quietness and will sit with us and will either lie against us or nuzzle us. It seems that they inherently understand that ‘making love not war’ is the best thing. In this sense they reflect our Maker’s intent and shame our human foolishness.
Playfulness … endless playfulness to which we humans give far too little attention … is another mark of a dog. I think we overlook the value of playfulness. Having fun releases the tension within us. I believe God made us to be playful. Why else do we have music and dance? My cousins recently returned from visiting Israel. They remarked that in the otherwise tense city of Jerusalem how often they saw Jews dancing and singing in the streets. It might be worth our while to ponder why God made an animal that happily retrieves the same ball time after time with a wagging tail and excited eyes?
Joy is a consequence of the playfulness, the acceptance and faithfulness of our pets. Our dogs meet us with such happiness. It always fills me with a little joy when visiting my daughter’s home to have the dog greet me. They appear to be so happy to see us. Did you know that one of the chief characteristics of the first Christians was their joy? They were noted for that. Sadly that has not always been the case for the Church. However the songs of praise and thanksgiving give opportunity for joy to come to the surface. And these moments of joy enable us to go and spread the joy around.
Courage is another quality of the canine species. Hear the story of Nemo A534 who was an Alsatian stationed in Vietnam with the armed services. When the Vietcong snuck into a military base one night, which Nemo and his handler were guarding, Nemo confronted them head on. His handler, Airman Thoneburg was wounded during the confrontation and Nemo took a bullet, which passed through one eye and snout. Despite this, Nemo lay across this master’s body and defended him against any more threats. He would not even let the medical team attend to his master. A vet was called to remove Nemo. Airman Thoneburg survived due to Nemo’s courageous actions.
Today we celebrate our dogs and we give thanks to God for them. They’re a blessing to us with their faithfulness, acceptance, playfulness, joy and courage. But in our celebration let us remember a few important truths.
- Remember that our dogs were created to be our companions and assistants in the service we render to God as good caretakers of this world.
- Remember dogs reflect the qualities that go towards building up a healthy social environment and these qualities remind us of our duty to each other.
- Remember that when our appreciation of our pets becomes excessive we run the risk of idolising them, which leads to exclusion of others.
- Remember that dogs are faithful and are happy to be with us all the time. It is we who walk away from them.
Is there a parable here for us?
Is this what we do with God?
May God bless you and your pets.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 17/11/2019