God’s “other book”

Daily Reading for October 4 • The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Hebrew Scriptures offer many poetic images of creation and the Creator’s purpose and joy in all that comes to be. As each new phase of creation unfolds, God proclaims, “It is good.” And when humanity arrives on the scene, the Creator entrusts the care of all that has been made into our hands.

Animals especially invite our attention and honor because their essential nature is mostly devoid of the kind of pretense we have learned to practice in cultural and religious life. If they are angry, they express anger; when joy fills them, they live their joy; and when danger approaches, they recognize it for what it is and take action. Animals express deep care for their young, know how to find and enjoy food, accept their limitations, and live in harmony with the rhythms of day and night, times and seasons.

My love for animals was a gift from my mother, who tenderly lifted earthworms from harm’s way, though she feared their wriggling bodies. This love that my mother taught me was kept underground for many years as I defended an infallible Bible and the Sovereign God who authored it. My spiritual journey has led me away from this early, rigid approach to Scripture, but my joy in the sacred text increased as I learned to allow the various writers to inhabit their own time and culture. With this fresh understanding of Scripture, I also learned to read from God’s “other book”—creation. I now understand how St. Anthony could point to the rugged mountains surrounding his cave-dwelling and answer a philosopher who asked how he would pray without a copy of the Scriptures, “Creation will be my book.”

In the last few years, animals have increasingly arrested my attention and taught me more about the Creator. When I have preached or offered retreats, I have felt compelled to share stories of animal encounters to illuminate Scripture. Many I speak with have a tenuous relationship with organized religion, often because they have felt abused by a church that used the Bible moralistically and denied the value of personal experience and questions. They have turned to God’s other book, preferring time in the midst of creation to pew-bound Sunday mornings. Others who have remained in the church ask why we have often been so self-focused that we have failed to recall and receive the wisdom of the whole created order. Both groups know that each of us, through animal encounters, may deepen our relationship with the Source of all Being. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

From Ask the Animals: Spiritual Wisdom from All God’s Creatures by Elizabeth Canham. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com