Why does animal suffering hurts so much?

 

I’ve encountered a lot of sad animal stories — in books, on the web, and in real life — recently, and I’ve mused over why I find them so distressing in a recent post for Religion News Service.

A friend, commenting there, noted that one of the reasons animal suffering may break our hearts so much is because animals are so very innocent; so very dependent. It reminded me of This American Life host Ira Glass’s rationale for why he cares for his incredibly high-maintenance dog, Piney.

Graeme&Molly

Here is a bit of my RNS post:

“The peaceable kingdom of God includes a vision of animals living happily with and among people:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

and

And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. (Hosea 2:18)

Part of human longing for home — a longing that often looks a lot like faith — seems to include the hope that not just we, but our animals, too, will find a place beyond suffering, beyond fear, beyond death itself.”

{Read more here.}

 

The Peace of Wild Things (with photos of animals seen on a recent safari)

For me, there is nothing quite like being outdoors, and, especially, seeing wild creatures, as an antidote to anxiety. I don’t think there is anything particularly unusual or strange in that. God’s strangely comforting words to Job involved proclaiming himself as involved and caring in the lives of the wildest and remotest creatures, Psalm 104 celebrates God as the one who knows the comings and goings of animals, and feeds them, and Jesus points his hearers’ attention to the birds and the flowers as evidence of God’s loving and continuous care.

I love Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” which, to me, somehow expresses all of that. Several years ago, when we were enduring particularly stressful times, I memorized it while washing dishes and repeated it to myself in bed when I couldn’t sleep, and when I longed to put on my hiking boots and wander into the wilderness, but had to stay home to change diapers and put kids down for naps. It’s worth reading and re-reading, I think:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

{via gratefulness.org}

I am, faith in Jesus notwithstanding, quite expert at “taxing” my life “with forethought of grief,” and that is just one of the reasons I love wild things: they cause me to consider that I am as beloved, or more so, than these creatures that God so loves.

Here are some of the wild things that gave me peace and grace this week:

kingfishers
kingfishers
bathing
bathing
delight
delight
impala
impala. so beautiful.
into still water
into still water
tree
wild, beautiful trees

{All photos by the Stone family. Feel free to share so long as you link back here. Thanks!}

Happy Easter Monday! Hop along with me!

Happy Easter Monday!

Today I’m participating in Ellen Painter Dollar’s“Best Thing Blog Hop,”  a chance for bloggers to shine new light on older blog posts that we consider to be among our best work.

Visit Ellen’s blog to see a list of other participants, with links to their “Best Thing” blog posts, and click through to read a few. This event is designed not only to give bloggers an opportunity to dust off old work, but also to introduce readers to new bloggers whose work might appeal. 

Click here to learn more about the Blog Hop and read all of the participating bloggers’ entries.

I wrote this piece almost exactly two years ago; it was the longest, most personal piece I’d ever published and reached the widest readership I’d ever had, appearing (thanks to Kendra Langdon Juskus!) in Christianity Today, Catapult/*cino, and ESA’s ePistle.

I’m an American living in the town in Germany where a bomb from World War II detonated 3 days ago, killing three people. Last week, my husband Tim came home early from his regular Thursday pick-up game of basketball at the university sports center here in Gottingen, Germany. I was puzzled to see him; I’d expected him to be much later, and he explained the reason for his premature return: “They found a bomb from World War II near the sports center where they’re doing some construction, and everyone had to leave the building.” This seemed bizarre; we hadn’t realized that thousands of leftover bombs still litter Germany—they’re usually found and deactivated without incident. I didn’t give it much further thought.

My father spent nearly three years as a “cold-warrior” at Hahn Air Base in west-central Germany in the mid-1970s. As an SP (special police) he guarded bombs—lots of very big and potentially very destructive bombs. He never saw combat, spending most of his time in Germany living off the military base, learning German, disco dancing, and flirting with German girls. At the same time, he became something of a military history buff, eagerly absorbing World War II history, and—being a guy with lots of Jewish girlfriends in his past and a fascination with Judaism—he also studied the Holocaust and visited former concentration camps. Later, back in the States, he re-met and married one of those former Jewish girlfriends, and they had me.

Though both my parents are practicing Christians, they were eager for me to have a sense of Jewish identity. They taught me to say the Shema in Hebrew (“Hear, O Israel, the LORD is G-d; the LORD is One”). They had me baptized—but in Israel, in the Sea of Galilee. They dragged me to Schindler’s List when I was way too young to handle it, and I read and re-read my autographed copy of I Am a Star until my mom brought me to work with her to meet Inge Auerbacher, the author. I had Hebrew lessons with the local rabbi when my dad was the pastor of the nearby Baptist church. He was Israeli, made great coffee, had a cat named Nefertiti, and refused to eat anything imported from Germany.

My husband and I moved here, to Gottingen, Germany, last September. When we arrived on the train, I got off first with our two young sons; Tim headed back into the train to grab our suitcase. The train was running late and the engineer must have been trying to make up time, because the doors closed faster than had been usual; I clapped my hands against the glass door, mouthing “goodbye” to my husband before he sped on to the next city. It was silly, but my mind kept remembering horrific scenes of separation by trains—scenes culled from my overexposure to World War II films.

These are my boys on our couch in Germany. I'm sorry, but those golden curls of Graeme's make me want to weep! I miss his long hair!

I work hard to live in the moment. For me, this means I try to live here in Germany without forgetting what happened to people of my pedigree 70 years ago but also realizing that those tragic events are over and done with. When my dad visited me last year, he also returned to the air base. Delightfully, the old weapons storage facility has been converted into a green energy plant with wind and water mills. We rhapsodized about the beating of “swords into plowshares,” quoting Isaiah and feeling comfortable leaving the past in the past to enjoy and admire the peaceful and democratic culture of Germany.

But last night, I came home late from a local saltwater pool, where I’d enjoyed a long swim, to find my husband waiting up for me. “I heard a loud explosion and then an hour’s worth of emergency sirens,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going on.” This morning, we learned another bomb, an American bomb, had been discovered near the same area; just before it was to be deactivated, it detonated, killing three people, seriously injuring two others, and blowing the fronts off of two nearby houses. One of Germany’s bomb disposal experts explained that the acetone detonators in these old bombs are deteriorating, meaning that as time goes on, they’ll become increasingly fragile and essentially impossible to deactivate safely. Many of these bombs are buried well below the ground, covered by buildings erected in the post-war period.

Continue reading Happy Easter Monday! Hop along with me!