Studies suggest animals engage in their own kind of spiritual practices. Discover animal-inspired prayer through a sacred writing practice.
As a kid, my favorite part of every Sunday morning was singing the Doxology. At that point in our church’s worship service, the congregation would stand and sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow / Praise Him all creatures here below ...” My mind would go wild, picturing who those creatures might be. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
I took these words so seriously—all creatures could assemble to praise God—that they once got me kicked out of church. I was on an ecumenical youth retreat with hundreds of other teens who had gathered for a weekend of fellowship, spiritual learning, and in my case, a bit of unanticipated mischief.
During our free time, I strolled with friends through the town. We soon happened upon a pet store. Journeying inside, I saw a cage full of tiny white mice with a sign stating Only 99 Cents Each! A few minutes later, I had a new family member lodged in the large pocket of my oversized red flannel shirt. A few hours later, I was turned in by a fellow attendee for the alleged crime of bringing a rodent to church.
In my defense, I offered up the the Doxology as well as Psalm 150:6, Psalm 148:10–13, and Revelation 5:13. Grudgingly, the adults gave me a small box to house the mouse for the remainder of the weekend, and my preacher father received a stern phone call about his rebellious daughter.
Indeed, studies suggest that animals have spiritual lives of their own. On the flip side, research has also shown that humans provide more moral consideration for animals deemed sacred in a religious tradition, since they are granted the capacity for greater mental lives. In fact, “mind attribution” often carries more weight in decisions about animal lives than “deservingness of moral treatment.”
And so, if our sacred texts suggest animals have a relationship with the Divine and science concurs it’s possible: What might it be like to pray as another animal? Of course, we humans cannot know. But, perhaps, we can increase our moral consideration for other beings by including them within our own practices.
Now, admittedly, that’s engaging in a bit of species appropriation, but it’s with good intent. So many species never even enter our human minds on a daily basis. Especially those that live far from us. If they aren’t in our minds, it can be hard to remember we share this planet with them. It can be even harder to remember our choices impact them. And so, each day, I’m now engaging in a prayerful practice I call journaling animalia.
Here’s how it works:
- I set my timer for 10 minutes and explore the lives of critters online, guided by questions such as: Who lives near me? Who has a remarkable gift that I need to know about? Who is endangered?
- Setting my timer for another 10 minutes, I close my eyes gently and begin to watch my breath. I try to envision these beings, using the stories or photos I saw online as a jumping-off point. I ask the Divine to give me insight into their needs so that I might pray for those to manifest.
- For the final 10 minutes of my practice, I journal whatever comes to mind, starting with “I AM,” a term used to suggest the beingness of God within the sacred text of my birth religion.
- Next, I include any beings from my web search and meditation―or any who just happen to pop in while I am writing. As a bit of lexical rebellion, I capitalize the names we call their species to add respect.
- Finally, I ruminate on what their prayer might be.
Some of my prayers have included:
- I AM the animals living with and near the two-legged humans. I am Canine, Bluejay, and Field Mouse. I am Spider, Deer, Chipmunk, and Yellow Finch. I am Feline and Fox. I am praying for safety in my environment.
- I AM the endangered and vulnerable suffering from loss of habitat, climate change, and poaching. I am Amur Leopard, Eastern Lowland Gorilla, Sunda Tiger, Hawksbill Turtle, and Sumatran Elephant. I am struggling to survive and pray to thrive.
- I AM the extinct. I am West African Black Rhinoceros, Spix Mackaw, Golden Toad, Falkland Islands Wolf, Dutch Alcon Blue Butterfly, and so many more. And, of course, I am the Dodo. I am praying to be remembered.
- I AM the human animal. Trying to remember I breathe the same air as my animal neighbors, in an eternal cycle of life and death. And although the rhythm of death and life is natural, how it is unfolding by human hands often is not. I am human animal, promising to shower all beings with love, with respect, and with consideration so that they may not only survive but also thrive. I am praying for the willingness to consider their needs alongside mine.
Admittedly, I may never know how other species experience consciousness, divinity, or their environment. I can’t possibly know their thoughts (although I’m tuned into feline requests for food). But I can include concern for these beings in my spiritual practice. And, for that matter, within my religious community. In fact, a few fellow animal-loving clergy and I just launched an interfaith, interspecies church-ish. If you’re an animal lover, join us. And, of course, your mice-loving teens are welcome, too.