|Pets and Spiritual Health|
here are many ways that pets contribute to our physical and mental health. They amuse us and give us exercise. They provide companionship, especially important in an era when so many households consist of just one person. And merely petting a cat or dog can lower one's blood pressure. The relevance of pets to health is such that it is now standard practice for eldercare homes to provide dogs and cats to keep people healthy and connected with life.
But I'd like to go a step further and suggest that living with a dog or cat is good for spiritual health. In different ways, dogs and cats can augment our religious experience.
The dog is the supreme teacher of the kindergarten lesson, "God is love", fundamental to Christian worship. For thousands of years, abundant love has been integral to human/canine bonding. Of course, the dog is subordinate in the loving relationship, but his unconditional loyalty and devotion is akin to the Islamic and Christian notions of submission to God. As our canine friend puts his loving trust in us, so we put our loving trust in a higher power.
By contrast, companionship with a cat opens one to the more meditative, reflective, inward-looking forms of religious experience- and a more abstract, depersonalized sense of the higher power. To watch a cat compose herself is to be put in mind of the Taoist or Buddhist becoming quiet and centered, emptying the mind of distractions, and allowing the ineffable life force to flow unimpeded. In the solitary feline calm is the same calm oneness with God of silent prayer. And in the cat's purr we have the Om of the Hindu: cat and devotee are each resonating with the "dial-tone of the universe."
The simple act of committing ourselves to care for a pet- or a child- is really the heart of the matter. Our tender regard for another creature's life and wellbeing, and our loving affirmation of that life, may be all we need to know of God.(printer friendly version)