Today is the traditional Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Yesterday the local Episcopal Church celebrated this feast with the somewhat Anglophile practice of the blessing of the animals. This is not generally an event to which my family pays particular attention – although we are animal lovers the only pets we have are hermit crabs and the spiders and bugs that naturally make their home along with us. Yesterday also happened to be a beautiful day for the local street fair and my brother and his family joined mine for the event. His family includes a dog and we noticed a sign advertising the local blessing of the animals. As my brother noted that his dog might better do with an exorcism, we decided to pick up a free blessing while the offer was good.
Normally animal services are held outdoors. This in itself is a commentary on the true equality of species. Many people feel it sacrilegious to bring animals into churches. Biologically speaking, however, that would exclude us all. Perhaps for allergies or the price of carpet cleaning it may be more expedient to bless the critters outside. After all, animals do fend for themselves out-of-doors, right? As we sat in an informal circle, the priest emerged from his office with his own dog at his side. A makeshift card-table altar had a simple wooden cross atop it to sanctify the area. As soon as they reached the center of our circle, the priest’s dog squatted to defecate on the lawn. It was a lighthearted moment, but it also spawned some reflection.
When it comes to religious settings and ceremonies, many normal behaviors and actions are considered inappropriate. This invisible divide reflects the time-honored division between the sacred and the profane. There is no tangible way to distinguish between the two; sacredness is a matter of cultural taste. Absolutes for sacred and profane simply do not exist. A priest’s dog following the dictates of nature is about as sacred an example of life as experienced by all creatures on this earth as any other. Expelling of waste is one of the characteristics of life as we know it. While some may find dog droppings offensive in sacred settings, I have a feeling St. Francis would simply have laughed.