I have always been a little stimulated by the concept of Dr Dolittle – being able to talk to the animals. I wanted to be a Vet during a part of my growing up, but realised that I did not have the academic temperament at school to achieve the grades I would need.
I have come to believe that my dog, Abbie, whom many of you met last Saturday, responds better to my commands when I say, ‘please’. ‘Settle, please.’ ‘On your bed, please.’ ‘Sit, please.’ This is, of course, in addition to the extremely large vocabulary that Border Collies are able to achieve – and even if they don’t I am biased enough about Border Collies to claim that do.
I can’t understand what she is saying when she barks, although I am attentive to the different sounds of her bark, that is, play, warning of stranger, fear, or pain. But I can understand, by her actions what she wants; when she wants to go outside, for example. There are, I suspect, other things that I interpret her to be expressing, but some, if not many, of these things may be anthropomorphisms, that is, human attributes that I give to her.
When I received back my last Theology Essay before graduating, my lecturer, who was an Archbishop of Canterbury’s appointment to the Anglican Doctrine Commission, wrote at the bottom of the page how he would miss my discussions involving the dependence of animals upon God as an example to us human beings.
My argument went something like, if we could talk to dolphins and pigs, what we could learn about worship based on true dependence upon God. I think I even included this argument in one of my essays, let alone in tutorial discussions.
This is, I think, not as strange as it might sound, when we read biblical passages of Jesus saying,
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Matthew 6:26
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. Matthew 10:29
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Luke 12:6
‘But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this? Job 12:7-9
For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare: On that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and the animals of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all human beings that are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence. Ezekiel 38:19-20
It seems to me that there is a relationship between Yahweh the Creator and the creation. Other parts of creation are dependent upon Yahweh the Provider and even respond to Yahweh the Judge.
There is, of course, a difference between humans and animals. Our creation by Yahweh includes God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1) spoken of as God’s breath (Genesis 2). This image and likeness we see in the story of the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as the ability to choose. We humans can choose to accept or reject, worship or not worship, God whereas animals are dependent upon God by instinct. So you can see my assumption about animals expressing worship of God through their dependence, and what we might learn from them if we could talk with them.
So it is not surprising that we read in the Psalm, today,
Let the whole earth stand in awe of him.
Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad:
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
Let the fields rejoice, and everything in them:
then shall all the trees of the wood
shout with joy before the Lord. Psalm 91:9, 11-12
The whole of creation at worship: the earth standing in awe, heavens rejoicing, earth glad, sea roaring, the sea life, too, fields rejoicing, and all livestock, too, and trees shouting for joy.
At my place, I’m not sure it is the trees shouting for joy, but the corellas are certainly making a racket. But when the noise of humans subsides, or is far enough away, you can hear the leaves on the trees rustling in the wind, sometimes, even, the creaking of the branches, bending and swaying. Walking along the beach at night, or staying in a place close to the surf, you can hear the deep sound of waves crashing on the beach. And I love the sight of those waves that are created as the wind blows over the crops of wheat and barley. All these images are ones that speak to the psalmist of creation giving worship to the creator.
If the whole of creation can give worship to God, then it ought to be natural for us to do so. Yes, we are given a choice to worship or not worship, a choice to respond or not respond to God’s offer of relationship and salvation, but to respond and worship is more natural than to not.
When I arrive home from work, my 11 year old dog, 80 years old in dog years, asleep on the front porch or in the shade on the south side of the house, wakes up and becomes a puppy with excitement. Let into the house, she runs around, slides across the floor on the rug, does a dance with her front paws, and gives that play bow – head down on her front paws and bum up in the air with tail pointing to the sky. If she does that for me, imagine what it would be like for God. I am God’s representative to her.
The greatest worship we can offer is our dependence upon God. The expression of that worship includes emotion – rejoicing, joy, gleeful shouting, roaring with excitement, being glad. Worship can, and does, move us to tears, cause us to laugh, to want to clap, to dance, to sing with a loud voice, to raise hands in the air, to fall to our knees, to be so overwhelmed that we lie down, to be silent and smile, to speak in a language not known by humans, to make time unimportant, to feel love and loved, even in the midst of a most solemn service of worship.
Worship is to express our love for God in heart, mind, soul and strength. The interesting thing is that, because it is so natural for us, when we truly worship, when we truly give ourselves to God, we are enriched, nurtured and sustained.
It seems to me, then, that worship of God is not dependent upon what happens to us, or what is going on around us; it comes from within. Worship is our internal default mode for we are created to worship God. As we approach Easter in this season of preparation, perhaps a question we might be asking God to reveal to us is, ‘What might be getting in the way of me worshipping God as God deserves?’