Thursday, July 16, 2009

Prayers for the Life and Loss of a Companion Animal

Here we are, less than 24 hours from the adjournment of General Convention, and I just now realized that there are a couple of resolutions about which I care deeply, but about which I did not know ‘til now. I speak of resolutions C076 and C078, both of which ask our Prayer Book, Liturgy, & Music committee to develop liturgies associated with the seasons of our lives with our animal friends – their adoption, illness, or death.

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.


Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

Why am I suddenly struck with the thought, "Hey, I could help write one of those..."

7/16/2009 11:33 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I hope they look at Fr Andrew Linzey's compositions. I've written liturgies in the past for our goldfish, and a prayer for all animals I encounter who were run over.

7/17/2009 12:44 AM  
Blogger Joanna Depue said...

I have written many animal prayers and rites on under the section More Or Less Church. You can check out entries on April 5, 19, Sept. 3 and Dec. 12 2005, Jan. 15 2006 and Feb. 10 2009. The 2009 piece includes many resources already in print by several authors. I certainly hope that the Committee has come up with some wonderful liturgies for our dear, close friends.

7/17/2009 2:05 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Kirk, I bet you could!

Christopher, I bought Linzey's Animal Rites, and gave a copy to my rector also. It is marvelous. And I'd love to see your prayer for animals who've been run over. When I see them, my spirit groans, but I never have any words.

Thanks, Joanna. I've seen those. Some good stuff there.

Must get ready for work, and I really can't post during the day, but this evening I'll try to post the links I've found.

7/17/2009 7:20 AM  
Blogger --Susan said...

My 18 year old girl is about to leave me. I think we have mere hours left together.

I have spent hours leafing through the prayer book over the last month or so. I don't need a prayer book to pray but sometimes it helps--especially when my own words fail. The prayers available there just haven't quite been what I needed and I have felt that void.

Certainly GC has had to wrestle with some significant things. While I care deeply about all the gay stuff, it isn't all I care about. It is difficult to find any information about non-sexuality initiatives. I had no idea about these two you've mentioned. I hope they find the time to address them.


7/17/2009 9:33 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...


Here's one example.
Usually, I make the Sign of the Cross and pray to this effect:

Blessed are you Lord of all Creation, we give you thanks for the life of this ______, your creature. Receive him/her/this one into your eternal embrace that he/she might enjoy you forever according to his/her estate; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Liturgy for our goldfish.

7/17/2009 10:01 AM  
Blogger John Bassett said...

I'm with you. I haven't the slightest interest whatsoever in a SSB, but a liturgy for a deceased dog could be important in my life in a few years. It was awfully lonely and painful the last time.

7/17/2009 6:42 PM  
Blogger WilliamK said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/17/2009 9:51 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Not to worry, William; I bleeped Brad into oblivion. He's trolling many sites -- mine, MadPriest's, Preludium, etc. He can't even manage to be amusing, much less thoughtful.

Remember: Don't feed the trolls. Trust me to evaporate them.

7/17/2009 10:31 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

-- Susan, my heart grieves with you. I do know exactly what that's like.

I'm going to post the sites I've found helpful.

But I'm with you ... and I was with you around Shug's death: I wish I had had a BCP resource to which I could turn.

Sending you prayers and much compassion.

7/17/2009 10:34 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Dear friends, I was too weary this evening to compile my list of animal rites. I will try to do it tomorrow.

Thanks for the links you have send my way.

7/17/2009 10:51 PM  
Blogger Ellie Finlay said...

Lisa, I will send you the liturgy I put together for my beloved Izzy if you will give me an email address. You can reach me at:


7/18/2009 7:01 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/19/2009 2:17 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Lisa, when you have the list compiled, I would definitely like to check it out. I love Christopher's prayer for animals killed at roadside. I always pray when I see a stray animal or lost one, especially if I can't get to it to help it:

Lord God, Creator, Earthmaker and Redeemer, have mercy on this your creation. Guide it to safety and to a place of compassion and mercy. Keep this your creation out of harm's way and make drivers mindful of animals along roads and streets, freeways and dirt tracks, that they may act with kindness and expediency in stewardship of your world. We ask this in the name of our Lord Christ. Amen.

7/19/2009 2:17 AM  
Blogger JayV said...

Thanks for this post, Lisa, and y'alls comments. I do pet sitting in my town and these examples will be helpful to me and my clients. And sometimes, my clients are not able enough to bring their pet(s) to the vet for the last time; since I have a strong bond to their pet(s), I have a special service I call Bridge of Light to be with the animal when she's euthanised. Thanks indeed for this post.

7/19/2009 6:04 AM  
Blogger --Susan said...

It is finished.

I prayed with her throughout her life, as she was failing, as she died, and as we buried her. Nothing formal. Just little talks with God regarding His creation, the queen of my home.

Those little five pounds have left a tremendous void.

Thank you for your prayers. I covet them still.


7/20/2009 10:51 AM  
Blogger Jim Cowan said...

Lisa, the diocese of NH had a link to a beautiful liturgy of thanksgiving for the life of an animal. We used a few years back when we lost my partner's 18 year old Maine coon. I will look for it and try to post it. I was on vacation without a printer when we needed it and so I copied it into one of my journals; so, if I can't find it I will try to find the journal. Jim

7/20/2009 9:07 PM  
Blogger Jim Cowan said...

Go the diocese of NH website and look under resources then under liturgical resources. There is a lovely liturgy for the loss of a pet. Blessings to all. Jim

7/20/2009 9:09 PM  
Blogger Marshall said...

You know, Lisa, on this I have to disagree. I certainly appreciate the import of the grief. My wife and I have had to make decisions to euthanize a number of times. Still, I'll stand by what I wrote: this is one where I think we can use the Prayer Book and the Book of Occasional Services and "Enriching Our Worship" (rites authorized for trial use)as resources and guides, while adapting and applying them locally.

You wrote, "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 would agree, but would also note that we have more agreement on some things than on others; and "our theology about the created order" is one of those places with less agreement.

Frankly, and without questioning her other creditable qualities, I'm disappointed that your priest just left this up to you. Perhaps it's out of my experience as a chaplain, but it seems to me that it is absolutely our role to help with this. You're honest that you're not a liturgy wonk, or even a "sacristy rat," and so it would seem to me an important first step in supporting you in your grief to help you put this together.

The House of Bishops referred this to the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music, and the House of Deputies concurred on the Consent Calendar. The new appointments to that Commission should be up before long. Do please send in your post and your concerns.

7/21/2009 11:16 AM  

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