While I contemplate Scotty’s probable death, I thumb desperately through the Book of Common Prayer. I search the Web. I find no prayers that I can pray with him while we nestle together on the sofa … with me knowing he is near death. I find no prayers I can offer while we are at the vet’s before his death. I find no prayers that I can pray at his death. I find no prayers that I can pray at his burial. Nor are there any other books in which I can find fitting prayers. I went through this same exercise with Shug in 2008. Two years later, my church has still left me without resources.
And that is the fault of the Standing Committee on Liturgy & Music.
Sue Grisham and others have begged our Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to craft liturgies for our lives with our companion animals, including the adoption, illness, or death of an animal companion. We liturgical people yearn for theological guidance in those moments. But the SCLM has refused to do offer such guidance.
The BCP and the Book of Occasional Services have prayers and liturgies for most of the passages of our lives. But nothing for the loss of a companion animal.
I remember when Shug died … and I searched the Web for appropriate prayers. I searched fervently. But there was nothing that our Church had crafted. I had to cobble my own rite from prayers offered on a few parish websites.
A weird irony has arisen since the 2009 General Convention. Now, you can find a bunch of prayers for human birth, miscarriage, and abortion. The SCLM crafted Rachel's Tears, Hannah's Hopes: Liturgies and Prayers for Healing from Loss Related to Childbearing and Childbirth to the Enriching our Worship, and it was adopted by the General Convention. I’m glad it was adopted. But …
I recognize that this is an unfair comparison, but because I have long-term animal companions and don’t expect ever to give birth, I cannot help noting the incongruity: I am looking to the death of my animal companion of 19 years. My church offers no guidance, no liturgy, not one prayer. But if I discharged a 4-week-old cell, “Rachel’s Tears, Hannah’s Hopes” would offer me a liturgical resource. I think something is wrong with that.
I should not have to craft my own prayers when I cradle Scotty here on the sofa, or when I hold him just before the vet administers the lethal injunction. I should not be left alone when I bury him or scatter his ashes. I count on our prayer book – or at least our Book of Occasional Services – to give me guidance in the critical moments of my life. I yearn for appropriate prayers, crafted by people of prayer whom I trust, when it comes time to trust my Scotty into God’s hands.
I beg our bishops and the SCLM to craft prayers for animals who are suffering, those about to die, and those who have died. Our incarnational theology tells me that God created the whole world and yearns to redeem the whole world. The whole world! Without a theologically solid liturgy, I am left to craft my own from whatever sources I can find. I would rather have one that has been pondered by theologians.