No matter which religion one follows or whether one subscribes to the concept of religion at all, Christmas is an opportunity to recognize an often missed spiritual message: the animals, too, are sacred. As people scramble in their shopping, preparing, hosting, feasting, we should reaffirm the sanctity of all living things as embedded in the Nativity story. The preachers and teachers as well as the congregants and gift-wrappers can benefit from viewing Jesus’s birth narrative as illuminator. The real gift of this holiday is knowing that through the Divine source, all life is holy. As every writer knows, setting is crucial to story, providing context, perspective, and subtle insights. This story’s setting is a manger – a feeding trough in a barn, a shelter for working animals. The word manger, from the French, manger, to eat, more than tangentially touches on sustenance. The notion of a Divine birth, then, enriches the story with the metaphor of Divine sustenance. We practice this today every time we assure ourselves through anxious moments that “everything is in Divine order.” Thirty three years later, Jesus’ ministry emerged distinct from other religious movements primarily because it deliberately included society’s least favored: tax collectors, prostitutes, women as equals. That egalitarian spiritual movement began with the birth in a manger,a precursor to the Sermon on the Mount warning that Here is where we denigrate animals with the word just as an adverb (it’s just an animal) rather than an adjective. Sadly, this message is missed as churches “rent” livestock to parade in Christmas pageants rather than contemplating the sacred message of their relationship to us. The metaphor strengthens with the inclusion of shepherds “watching their flocks; the angels grant them roles profound that many estimate. Stewardship of the animals is indeed its own blessing, but these stewards are exclusively chosen to receive angelic messages, the first humans to know of Jesus’s birth. Deemed holy enough to receive this “good news,” they both reflect and foreshadow the adult Jesus as Divine shepherd with singular purpose : love. Time and place in this narrative has retained its significance for two thousand years, but we forget to sanctify all the characters. The crystallized message, overshadowed by the popular larger story, remains central to many non-Christian, non-Western, and indigenous systems : a Divine being finds us and greets us on a plane where all creatures are equal. The Nativity reinforces the notion that God dwells in all places, with all living beings, including animals, who we know as the essence of innocence. Christmas, then, whether celebrated as a religious holiday or honored as a season of peace, can be a pathway through which we touch that innocence and reconnect to our own. The gift is how we share the flame of Divine love that permeates all life.
Lis Shaw is an animal communicator, spiritual counselor, writer,and professor who lives in South Florida with her four legged and winged family. Her web site is www.reikidogs.com and her e-book, IlluminationL Life Lessons from our Animal Companions, is available on Amazon.