Monday, February 22, 2010

Animals and Eternal Rest

Having already done two posts on our pets and heaven, I'll wander away from scripture and the patterns of traditional theology and more into my own spiritual sense of the eternal destiny of the animals that fill our world. It might be a bit too esoteric to share with your typical seven-year old wondering whether Mr. Barky is in heaven...but then again, seven year olds often surprise you with what they can take in.

My own personal spiritual predilections are pretty intensely mystic in character. Those moments of numinous, ecstatic presence that shook me from a position of alternately cynical and hopeful agnosticism into my current faith in Christ and Creator have left me feeling rather differently about the creatures around me. Meaning, no more Vietnamese steak marinated in red wine and rolled in pepper on a bed of lightly dressed salad, no matter how much that thought still evokes a Pavlovian response.

Ultimately, I believe that the existential barriers of self that we perceive as unbreachable boundaries between us mean exactly diddly squat. With Thomas Merton and other Christian mystics, I see our awareness in this life as deeply limited. Though we do not now directly perceive the harms or joys we cause in the same way as the beings with whom we interact, that lack of perception is a limitation of our temporal and material existence. We are, whether we like it or not, all participants in one another. Once we enter into the unmediated presence of God, we come into the wholeness of what the Apostle Paul would have called our "spiritual body." That, as I have come to understand it, is not just the "us" that we know, but the full fruit of our words and actions as they play out across every relationship in which we have participated.

Every joy caused and every harm inflicted is unmediated and fully us, written forever into the fabric of existence. That standard, as I know it through my faith, includes not just our interactions with the homo sapiens sapiens around us. It also includes the creatures with which we share this beautiful and fragile little planet. If I strike or harm another being, that harm is mine, forever scarring me. If I give comfort to another being, that comfort is a part of my place in eternity.

For simpler creatures that lack awareness of self, this interweaving of being is just part of what they are. The lion will know the death throes of the wildebeest, and the wildebeest will know the contented sleep of the full bellied lion. Feel free to start singing that Lion King song, if you must. Creatures that exist moment to moment are simply living as they must live. They have little understanding of themselves as selves, and even less understanding of the other as a self.

As beings grow in sentience and awareness of self and other, they become more...spiritually complicated. But the interconnectedness remains the same. It is to that interconnectedness that the greatest and only law of the Gospel speaks. We are to be aware that we are part of a glorious something that transcends us and our culture and our species, and to love that Glory with all our heart and mind and strength. As a part of that knowledge, we are called to love the Other as we love ourselves.

The creatures around me are part of the great story that God is telling, just as I am part of it. Our destiny is the same. We move into the presence of God as one.

When I come through the door at the end of a long day, and our little puppy comes galumphing up with her tail wagging in unconditional, exuberant joy at my arrival, that knowledge is a pleasure.