I expect my comments here will be much too little and too late. I have looked at the schedule for the PBL&M committee, and I’m sure they are not going to have enough time to act on the many resolutions that are still on their plate.
But I add my voice to Sue Grisham’s and others, in encouraging action. If not now, then at GC12. Sooner or later, GC needs to act on these. But I recognize I am raising my voice too late.
The Book of Occasional Services has all sorts of prayers and liturgies. We have a liturgy for the Blessing of the Animals … and all sorts of others.
What is missing are prayers and liturgies for our animal companions in critical times – their adoptions, their times of sickness, times when we must face decisions about euthanasia, prayers at their deaths and burials.
Many of you were with me when I suddenly realized my cat Shug was in extremis, took her to the vet, and realized I had to make that awful decision. All that happened within the space of eight hours. Some of you were with me after her death, and some of you offered beautiful prayers for me and for her.
Here’s the thing: On that day when I got the vet’s diagnosis and knew that I should give Shug over to God’s hands, I searched frantically for appropriate prayers. A few are available in the blogosphere. I printed some of them, cobbled them together, and took them with me to the vet’s office. I held Shug in my arms, while I prayed those hastily-assembled prayers, with the vet and some of her staff around me. Even now, tears come to my eyes as I remember that evening. It was a holy time. But I was frustrated that I had to cobble-together readings from our Prayer Book with animal liturgies to try to come up with something that would be “meet and right” for sending Shug back into the arms of God.
It got worse after that … as I had to deal with her ashes. I have a wonderful priest. She was willing to officiate at a burial of Shug’s ashes. She said, “Just develop a liturgy, and we’ll do it.” That was 17 months ago. Shug’s ashes are still sitting on my credenza. And why? Because I lack the skill to come up with a liturgy on my own. I see many resources on the Web … but most of them do not come from a Christian understanding. Those that do are all over the map. I am neither a theologian nor a liturgist. I want somebody in our church to craft a liturgy that I can use.
Try to imagine that one of your relatives has died, and the priest says, “Sure, we’ll hold a service. Just develop the liturgy.” We don't do that. We have liturgies for burial and memorial services for our human friends.
And we should not have to "make it up on our own" for our animal companions. That is not the way we do our theology or liturgy. When we are at our best, the whole church together – with its theologians, liturgical scholars, and poets – develops the rites that we can share.
I do not want to be left on my own to craft a fitting liturgy for Shug’s burial. I want our church to craft a liturgy that reflects our theology about the created order … and about the meet and right way to commit a beloved animal companion back to the earth when her life is over. I want my church to do that for me.
I am writing this too late to have any effect on GC09. But I hope that I can connect with some of you in hopes of getting this onto the agenda in 2012.
By 2012, I expect that I will also have to go through this with my other cat, my 18-year-old Scotty. I will lack liturgical resources for those horrible hours in the vet’s office, and I will lack liturgical resources for commending his body back to the earth.
By 2012, let us all get together to ask our Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to craft fitting liturgies for these moments. Take a look at this article from Episcopal Life Online.