I Believe

This page has played host to a dizzying array of topics, from more general examinations of film, theater, poetry, art, civic duties and Hawaiian culture (makes me wince, every time) to the specifics of Hank Williams, Dante, Bukowski and our ancestor-aliens from the 12th planet, who leave crop circles (mostly in England) as calling cards indicating imminent return. The only thing I've been consistent about is what I've avoided covering--an area of activity that's not only important to many Tucsonans' lives, but central to it.

Spirituality is what I mean (though certainly crop circles are church for a handful of the devout); more specifically, religion organized around old rituals and old stories; even more specifically than that, religion organized by white Europeans. My discomfort already being obvious here, I don't mind telling you that this kind of organized religion has never worked well for me, perhaps because as a child I found the dynamics of male-female relationships in Biblical stories disturbing, or because--as I grew older--I saw so many historical instances of religion being used to wage war and perpetrate injustices, as well as modern-day instances of frequent disconnect between what is preached and what is practiced.

Though clearly the religions of other cultures have also been used and abused in similar ways, it's easier to be objective about them--and thus to write about them, whether it's a Tohono O'odham celebration or a Muslim comedy tour--than it is to wrestle with the white European version of spirituality, since--as the descendent of white Europeans--I don't feel the same genetic responsibility to respond to or be involved with the others. In my very serious capacity as City Week editor, however--and as a working journalist trained to be constantly on guard against personal bias--I admit that this isn't entirely fair.

On the one hand, you see, there's such an overwhelming number of church services and events in and around Tucson that I cannot publicize each; also, no one is better than church-goers and church-administrators at calling you up and pointing out the someone else is receiving more attention than they are. (Oh, except art galleries. They're also very good at that.) In this job, just the anticipation of getting hostile phone calls about ridiculous things is enough to make you give up the ghost and go for coffee.

On the other hand, as the proud granddaughter of a carpenter and lay minister in the Anglican church--who got up each day to do good works, build good houses and spread kindness in the spirit of the god he believed in, and who passed away on Sept. 21 of this year--I cannot say I've never been moved by the faith of someone who lives by the best tenets found in the texts they hold sacred.

So, as a tribute not only to my grandfather, but to all people whose faith inspires them to be really and truly good to other human beings--regardless of race, sexual orientation or circumstance--I offer this most kind and gentle religious event: the Saint Philip's in the Hills Parish's Blessing of the Animals service, held at 9 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, in the church's plaza (4440 N. Campbell Ave.) and open to everyone in the community.

The Saint Philip's Blessing of the Animals service is believed to be the longest-running event of its kind in Tucson; their first celebration was held more than 25 years ago, though the service itself is a much older custom. Conducted in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi--who loved larks, gave up his shelter to a donkey and wrote a Canticle of the Creatures that went something like, "All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures"--the ceremony involves blessing both people and their pets; the pets are then sprinkled with holy water.

"Believe it or not," writes Franciscan Kevin E. Mackin on www.americancatholic.org, "most pets receive this sacramental spritz with dignity, though I must admit I have seem some cats flatten their ears a bit as the drops of water lightly pelt them."

The case that Americans already give too much to their pets--love, expensive food, hip-replacement surgery--while not giving enough to their fellow human beings can be easily, and righteously, made. But the Blessing of the Animals service is really a celebration and acknowledgement of love--I'd even say of a remarkably pure and perfect love, as I envision the face of my heeler-border collie mix, Scout--and if you want to argue the worthiness of acknowledging love, you're reading the wrong column--I believe.

Though representatives of Saint Philip's were not available for comment, there's a great deal online information about the service and what attendees can expect. Though fancy churches in Manhattan often handle fancy animals such as camels, "the usual turnout," according to the Revs. Robert Morrison and Richard J. Fairchild (of www.spirit-net.ca) "is dogs, cats, birds and rats, but we've had fish (no, I don't touch the fish, just the water!), gerbils, snakes, lizards, and from time to time, stuffed teddy bears. And I bless (with the sign of the cross) both animal and owner."

The spectacle itself--which obviously calls Noah's Ark to mind--alone makes attending worthwhile ("the local newspaper sometimes comes to take pictures," Morrison/Fairchild shyly note), and the service is generally not long. "Let the mood of the animals be a guide to length," write the two. "Something appropriate Franciscan and short might be ventured. After all, the animals are not going to be impressed by even the most eloquent of preachers."

For more information about the Sunday event, call the parish at 299-6421.

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