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How I Became an Animal Chaplain (and Why It Matters)

Family Heirloom painting

Family Heirloom, Mary Alayne Thomas,

Sarah Bowen shares ways humans can rebalance their relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom.

“You were real to the boy,” the fairy said, “because he loved you. Now you shall be real to everyone.” —FROM THE VELVETEEN RABBIT It’s possible the seeds for my call to animal chaplaincy were sown the first time I was read Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit. In this classic children’s story, a stuffed rabbit struggles with some of the life lessons we humans do: What does it mean to be real? How powerful is unconditional love? Are some lives valued over others? As a result of the story, I formed rich relationships with my stuffed animals, concerned about their welfare, loving them as the boy in the story loved his rabbit. William’s tale deeply informed my beliefs about what might have a soul or spirit, causing me to treat seemingly inanimate objects with great compassion. One day, I was in the toy store checkout line with my mother, preparing to hand over my allowance in exchange for a fuzzy brown bear. Taking a long look at the bear and then at 7-year-old me, the cashier noted, “Hold on a minute, sweetie, I’ll get you a different one. This bear is missing an eye.” I boldly ann …

About the Author

Sarah Bowen

Find spiritual practices in Sarah Bowen’s book Spiritual Rebel: A Positively Addictive Guide to Finding Deeper Perspective & Higher Purpose. Explore the intersection of animals and spirituality in her forthcoming Sacred Sendoffs: An Animal Chaplain’s Advice for Surviving Animal Loss, Making Life Meaningful, & Trying to Heal the Planet. And listen to her recent podcast with Rabbi Rami.

Bowen is a multifaith spiritual educator, animal chaplain, and award-winning author. As a member of One Spirit Interfaith Seminary’s faculty, Spiritual Directors International, and several recovery communities, Bowen seeks to help others connect with the higher power of their own understanding. She’s passionate about the study of the world’s great spiritual traditions; animal welfare; and travel to quirky, spiritually charged locations. When she grows up, Bowen hopes to be a Jedi. Connect at or follow her on Instagram @modernreverend.

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