Exploring the spirituality of animals

Animal companions share virtually every aspect of our lives.

by Kris Lecakes Haley — 

Animal spirituality has been referred to as a new and emerging discipline blending the worlds of animal welfare and ethics with principles of spirituality. As science reveals more potent examples of animal sentiency, the next frontier asks if that sentiency signals the existence of a soul.

However, to those who share their lives with animal companions, there is nothing new about the spiritual nature of these beings. More and more, we see a soft blending of the static border once separating the worlds of faith and fur (or feathers or fins).

Animal companions share virtually every aspect of our lives. But what of spiritual life? Beyond our personal beliefs about their spiritual identity, where do they fit within the varied world of traditional religious doctrine? What level of recognition is there about the spiritual lives of animals? Be assured — a growing one.

Examples include a significant increase in animal blessings, pet grief support meetings and online faith-based animal organizations which serve not only as virtual meeting places for kindred spirits but as facilitators of both cultural and conventional change for animals. Academia is following closely. An animal chaplain ordination program was unveiled at an international theology institution, which also plans degree programs that blend the best of humane and spiritual teachings.

New partnerships are forming as animal and faith organizations join forces to address community issues, such as animal overpopulation and dog fighting — and humane education principles are being included in traditional Sunday school curricula. Related books and Internet references grow in direct correspondence with our expanding awareness.

Spiritual leaders are beginning to heed this growing trend. Realizing that their respective congregations are a microcosm of the 63 percent of shared human-animal homes, many are instituting animal ministries and animal-centric pastoral care offerings to meet the needs of this growing dimension of their communities. Some have even opened sanctuary doors, allowing animals to sit alongside their human companions. Others hold special, animal-friendly observances to meet the growing demand.

The world of animal welfare is not far behind. Two national animal welfare organizations recently drafted faith-based animal initiatives. One involved farm animal legislation in California, while the other assembled a group of spiritual leaders from more than 20 faith traditions to craft, “A Religious Proclamation for Animal Compassion,” a document unveiled in Washington, D.C. in 2007.

Arguably, acknowledging our spiritual connection with animals is the next step in our own evolution. And who better to move us to the next level of compassion than those masterful teachers who bring out the very best in us? Those that express the purest aspects of love and joy, and expect absolutely nothing in return; those that nurtured our empathy in childhood through books, fairy tales and movies — it is the beloved animals with whom we share our planet.


Kris Lecakes Haley is an ordained animal chaplain, a registered Bach Flower practitioner for animals and co-founder of the Interfaith Council of Humane Leadership and Peaceanimal, an organization dedicated to expanding the concept of peace to include all species. www.peaceanimal.com, peaceanimal@cox.net or 602-738-3030.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 2, Apr/May 2009.

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