Sunday, September 19, 2010

Animal Rites

An Appeal to the Bishops & SCLM

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.


Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

Honestly, I just cheat and use the people prayers. If there are no dogs in heaven, as Will Rogers said, "I want to go where they go." I am sure the same holds true for cats and cat lovers.

9/20/2010 1:30 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I'll confess I've done that too, Kirke, and will probably do so again.

9/20/2010 7:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Diebel said...

Robert Stiefel in N.H. - a priest I've known many years was working on and writing liturgies for pets. I don't know what came of them...obviously nothing from the National Church. Maybe something is privately published?

9/20/2010 7:08 AM  
Blogger Daniel Weir said...

Andrew Linzey's book "Animal Rites" may have prayers for the death of a pet. I own it, but I'm not sure it's unpacked after our move.

9/20/2010 7:23 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

There are something published at the New Hampshire diocesan site. Also I have found some great prayers surfing the web. Will look for some today

9/20/2010 9:32 AM  
Blogger IT said...

I'm so sorry, Lisa. I feel for your vigil (my parents just went through this with their big Newf). I hope that Scotty's passage is as easy as possible (for him; I know it will be agonizing for you).


Every year on the Saturday before the blessing of the animals, the Cathedral in San Diego has A Service of Remembrance for Our Animal Companions. I don't know what they use.

9/20/2010 11:47 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

Here is the NH site

9/20/2010 12:05 PM  
Blogger JCF said...

Here's a resource:

Here's another:

From the latter:

Liturgy for a Dead or Dying Pet

Leader Let us sing to the Lord a new song;
All a song for all the creatures of the earth.

Leader Let us rejoice in the goodness of God
All shown in the beauty of all things.

A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (8:18-21)

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

A Reading from the Revelation to John (Rev. 21:1, 4-5a, 6)

I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. And he shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold I make all things new. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

All The Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

This we know: every living thing is yours and returns to you. As we ponder this mystery we give you thanks for the life of N. and we now commit him/her into your loving hands. Gentle God: fragile is your world, delicate are your creatures, and costly is your love which bears and redeems us all.

Holy Creator, give us eyes to see and ears to hear how every living thing speaks to us of your love. Let us be awestruck at your creation and daily sing your praises. Especially, create within us a spirit of gratitude for the life of this beloved pet who has lived among us and given us freely of his/her love. Even in our sorrow we have cause for joy for we know that all creatures who died on earth shall live again in your new creation. Amen.

HTH. You and Scotty remain in my prayers.

9/20/2010 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a site I have turned to in the past:


9/20/2010 9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry! I didn't realize I reproduced JCF's post!

But they're really good prayers at St. Margaret's.

9/20/2010 9:24 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thank you, my friends. I should have consulted this thread before I spent so many hours on my “Animal Rites Collected” post // tonight. You could have saved me some time.

Yes, Mark, I found Robert Stiefel’s liturgy. It is wonderful, and I’ll probably use some form of it for Scotty.
But you’re right – and making the point I was trying to make in this post: Our Episcopal Church has offered us nothing “authorized.” Yes, there are liturgies out there. But the church should make it easier for us. That’s the main point I was trying to make.

Thank you, Daniel. Yes, I said here //, I not only own that book, but also have shared it with several priests and postulants. Thank God for Linzey’s work!

Ann, I well remember you offered one of the most poignant prayers when Shug died. I wish I had your gift. That’s what we need in prayers for our animal companions: solid theology and the gift of poetry. You have them!

Thank you, IT. I think you “get it” about my grief and about my wanting a good liturgy. [You’ve been hanging around Episcopalians long enough, eh? ;-) ] You’re right: I’m wanting prayers for Scotty and for me.
Very cool to hear about the cathedral’s “service of remembrance.” Kinda like the whole Blue Christmas thing, eh?

Thanks, Ann. I’ve added the NH site to my “Animal Rites” sidebar. You da best!

JCF, I knew about ENAW. But thanks for the link to St. Margaret’s. That was a new one, and I’m adding it to the sidebar. And that prayer for a dead/dying pet speaks deeply to me. That’s the sort of prayer I’ve been seeking in this vigil time. Thank you!

Not to worry, Tracie H. You and JCF must be travelling on parallel karmic paths. :-)

9/21/2010 12:42 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

BTW, harkening back to my earlier exchange with KirkE this morning: I have looked at the BCP prayers (pg. 462ff). But the problem there is that it assumes there is sin. And I don't believe our animal companions can sin, nor that they need to be absolved. So it's not so easy just to use the BCP for our animals. That's why I'm hammering on this need for animal liturgies that are theologically sound and pastorally sensitive.

9/21/2010 12:44 AM  

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