Sometimes even a moral sluggard can say something profoundly true. I was recently visiting the uplifting site of a British pet photographer, and came across this wonderful insight:
“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
As I spent a moment reflecting on the quote, having just enjoyed a morning game with our border collie, it dawned on me these words are not only philosophically true. The more I consider them the stronger the case, it seems to me, can be made for their theological truth.
Turn the statement around. Can someone be considered spiritually awake if they have never possessed a moment of genuine affection for an animal, the pinnacle of God’s natural creation? I tend to think not.
Cultural matters certainly influence one’s connection with nature. It may be that people surviving on the edge of food sufficiency would view animals primarily as a resource. Yet even then, the best among us still possess a regard for the creatures whose lives we curtail to extend our own.
An outstanding example of this is found in a common practice among North America’s first peoples. (First Nations is the common term in Canada). Many of these people would include prayer on behalf of the prey they sought.
In the Cherokee legend “The Little Dear, Awi Usdi,” describes how hunters were taught to only take life when necessary, and to “ask pardon when an animal was killed.”
Another site explains how “Coast Salish women were forbidden from stepping over deer meat, and the men had to look away when uncovering it. All bones had to be thrown into the water, and the viscera not consumed were buried so the dogs would not eat it.”
“Post-Kill Rituals: Matters of the Heart,” describes how this “ancient reverence” for hunted animals extended beyond the Americas. It concludes with a valuable thought.
Rituals aren’t a bad idea . . . But you show the utmost respect by concentrating on killing the animal quickly. Hunters’ conduct toward wildlife and nature should be consistent with their conduct toward other humans.
While Christians will necessarily overlook the religious elements of these various traditions,* those most attuned to the love of God – a Creator who viewed the “living creatures” he had fashioned and proclaimed, “it was good” – will possess at least a glimmer of reverence or affection for wildlife.
Not that Christians can’t be avid hunters. The Roman Catholic Church even has a Patron Saint for hunting. St. Hubert, pictured above, was (before his canonization, of course) a worldly nobleman. In the seventh century, Hubert had ignored invitations to attend worship on one of the holiest of days, Good Friday. Yet the Lord met him there, in the forest. His conversion occurred when he saw a vision of a crucifix while hunting. Hubert would later use his skill with a bow to draw crowds for his preaching of the Gospel.
C.S. Lewis & the Hunting of Deer
In an essay entitled “The Seeing Eye,” C.S. Lewis turns the analogy of hunting upside down. Using his own life, in which searching for God was the farthest thing from his desires, Lewis describes his conversion in a fascinating manner. It is interesting that while Lewis reveals he wasn’t desirous of faith, he was seeking honesty within his own conscience. He was also seeking truth.
I never had the experience of looking for God. It was the other way round; He was the hunter (or so it seemed to me) and I was the deer. He stalked me like a [hunter], took unerring aim, and fired. And I am very thankful that that is how the first (conscious) meeting occurred. It forearms one against subsequent fears that the whole thing was only wish fulfilment. Something one didn’t wish for can hardly be that.
But it is significant that this long-evaded encounter happened at a time when I was making a serious effort to obey my conscience. No doubt it was far less serious than I supposed, but it was the most serious I had made for a long time.
So, Who was the Author of the Initial Quote?
I began by saying even moral sluggards can occasionally make a good point. The person who drew the connection between our regard for animals and our souls is Anatole France. Not only was he a serial adulterer, he was a devout atheist. (Not all atheists are adulterers, of course, but rejecting the God of the Bible does make it a lot easier to justify one’s immorality.)
Anatole wrote some curious works ridiculing Christianity, and until I was writing this post I had completely forgotten about my 2014 post about his advocacy for Satan.
Returning to Positive Subjects . . . Like Animals
The site that used the great quotation with which we began, is excellent. It is called “Mad about Greys,” and is the work of a British photographer.
Liz Coleman does an amazing job capturing the hearts and – dare I say, souls – of the pets she shoots. Even though Surrey is quite a ways for most Mere Inkling readers to visit her studio, I encourage you to visit her website today.
* There were additional Native American beliefs and taboos. For example, “the Pentlatch and Squamish buried or hid all deer bones. The West Sanetch were not permitted to eat deer meat and fish at the same meal.”