Friday, February 6, 2009

Pet Baptisms??? Pets at Ash Wednesday Service???

Last night, in my Poetry Workshop class, we looked at one of my poems, which I had written out as a paragraph, and I gave to them to experiment with lines and stanzas.

I like to explain how I came up with ideas for a poem, and the inspiration for this one happened when I went to visit my mother-in-law in the ICU on Ash Wednesday, and I noticed that every single one of the mostly unconscious patients in the ICU had an ash smudge on their foreheads. Always when I recount this tale to students, I have to explain Ash Wednesday.

Last night, one of my students told me that at her childhood church, people brought their pets to Ash Wednesday service to get them smudged. It boggles my mind. Can a pet possibly understand mortality? I see one of the main purposes of Ash Wednesday is to remind us that we're not here for very long. With that knowledge in mind, and our ash smudges on our foreheads, we might think more seriously about our priorities.

Then another one of my students said that her Baptist church used to baptize pets. Clearly these are not the Southern Baptists of my youth!! I resisted asking whether it was full immersion or sprinkling of water on the head.

I've grown accustomed to services where people bring their pets in to be blessed, although the Lutheran churches of my youth would not have done such a thing. But baptized? Smudged with ashes?

It makes me think about animal souls and the urgent question of my childhood: would my dog be in Heaven?

Over at LutheranChik's blog, LutheranChik recounts the conversation she's having on Beliefnet. She talks about C. S. Lewis' view of the question of pets in Heaven: "I mentioned C.S. Lewis, and how while he couldn't quite bring himself to imagine that every sentient being on the planet lives on in the life to come -- he speculated that perhaps they do as a species or Type but not as individual creatures -- he did theorize that perhaps, just as we are called into relationship with God, made children and heirs to God's household, our love and care for our companion animals likewise transforms them and allows them to join us in eternity."

Then she talks about her relationship with her dog and describes the games they play and the sheer joy that it brings both of them. She concludes "It makes me wonder if God feels a similar pleasure interacting with us, or sharing moments of spiritual intimacy with us."

It's a great post. Go here to read the whole thing. You'll have to scroll down to get to the Feb. 3 entry, if she's posted since then, and then keep scrolling to the entry entitled "Gertie Love . . . God's Love." It's worth the effort.

Still, even knowing how much people love their pets and how valuable this experience can be, I don't know if I can support pet baptisms. Do the people of the church promise to help in the pet's faith journey? Does the pet owner promise to read the pet the Scriptures? If I was a pastor and someone wanted their pet baptized, we'd have to have a long talk about the sacrament and what we understand happening there.

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