If there’s one thing a holiday about God born as a human baby should embrace above all, that would be the concept of love. God’s goodness toward us, shown in love by becoming one of us. Peace on earth = loving each other. And so, with my own sons grown but no grandchildren to make vivid the charm of being as a child towards God, I turn to the animals living around me to see reflections of that love.
Now many of us, whether or not we have children at home, will fill stockings with gifts for our pets, the animals who companion our lives. Our son and his fiancée in Minnesota have hung stockings (over a doorway as they have no fireplace) for all 3 cats and both dogs. And when we get back to Warrenville, our dog Seiki will get at least an especially long walk and extra treats for her fifth day of Christmas present. Foster beagle Pearl and her three pups will get much attention and some treats also. But I was thinking more about what our companion animals teach us about Christmas love than the love we show them, at Christmas or any time of year.
First, there is the purely physical aspect of love: leaning into a human’s touch, snuggling next to a human on a bed, chair, or sofa. (Or, if small enough, over their human’s shoulders or in a human’s lap!) The giving of doggy kisses and cat hugs, the horse’s head resting trustingly on your shoulder. The comfort they get—and give—simply from being with us. And we are told that God is also with us, having once been with humanity in a very real. physical way, born as a human baby. Love taking flesh.
Next, there is the joy and wonder, the love of life, about which the childlike qualities of our companion animals, and particularly the young ones, remind us daily. Sources form ancient philosophers to modern science fiction authors remind us that the same physical existence which can make us feel so separate from others’ spirits can help us connect through shared experiences of laughter and play. What can reconnect you to the joy and wonder of life better than watching a puppy explore a new territory, or a cat play with a new catnip toy or a ferret chasing a jingly ball.
But the aspect of pets that best portrays the love embodied in the birth of Jesus for me is their dependence on us. Having month-and-a-half old foster puppies in the house reminds me not only how resilient and exuberant infant mammals are—but also how essentially fragile. Even the largest, strongest dog is born blind, nearly deaf, and too weak . Our foster puppies tug at our hearts simply by existing. These tiny puppies ask so much of me, just by being. How can we not love that vulnerable innocence? So, God as infant becomes even harder to fathom, but surely more likely to sneak into my heart and take over my life.
Wishing you a very joy-filled Christmas season and a happy new year!
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