by Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti
Parliament Trustee Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti’s new book entitled Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction. The book applies both scientific and religious perspectives to the relationship between humans and other animals.
Excerpt Published with permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
“One summer morning it was a bat. I had set out early for a trail walk, hoping to get some exercise for me and for the dogs and some mental focus before the day heated up. I had planned to write about having learned from Molly to love the non-human world. As I started out on the trail, I calmed my mind, stilled my thoughts and asked all the beings there to help me to stay awake and not drift into the lulling and dulling chatter of thoughts. After a few minutes of watching the woodpeckers and the cottontails, the rocks and the ragged cianothus and sage, I noticed a dead blossom lying in the middle of the trail. As I bent to look at it, I saw its fine and fragile wing-like structure. I picked it up and turned it over, still not knowing what it was. Then face-up in my hand, I could see that it was a dead bat. I observed that his little mouth was open, tongue out and the tiny fragile fingers of both hands were clutching his throat. I thought he may have died of some poison, or gagged on contentious catch. I probably never would have picked up a dead bat intentionally, having heard terrible tales of bat-contamination. I carried the little corpse over and set it on a noteworthy rock, hoping that I would find it there for further study upon my return. As I turned to go, a wing fell open, or did he move it? I returned to investigate.
I understood then that he might have been one of the many flying creatures who have some kind of problem midflight that causes them to crash land, resulting in shock and dehydration, on top of any injury or illness. They frequently need water and safety more than any special care. I have learned that a lot of animals die just so of shock and dehydration, and I have also learned that they understand your intent in relation to them very quickly. I assured him in that soft hypnotic voice that creatures tend to love that my intent was to do no harm and to do what good I might. I lifted him gently and watched him unfold and open entirely; beautiful wings made of a fine frame of bone and joint covered with translucent fabric that wrapped his body, webbing the entire back of his torso in an enclosure. I didn’t have my glasses, and, at this point was interested to know if he had teeth. I peered at him closely and saw the soft petals of his pointed ears, but I never did ascertain the presence of teeth, in spite of his open mouth. His furry belly fluttered with uneven breath as his arm bent at the elbow and he reached for his mouth again. Then my mind’s ear heard clearly the words, “I thirst.” Ah, that. I do not know how to care for a bat and I know precious little about them, but I do know thirst. I decided I would carry him to the creek with me and see about arranging something between him and the moisture he so desperately craved.
I studied him as I walked, awed by the intricate beauty and the fragile toughness of him. He had tiny glass beads of eyes. Had I not heard that bats had no capacity to see? It was hard to tell exactly without my reading glasses. His body was about an inch and a half long with fine pointed little ears at the top and a webbed tail, which he used to completely pull up the blanket of his fabric and enclose himself. His wings were about six inches in span, huge by comparison to his soft little body, graceful as a geisha’s fan in their folding and unfolding. His arms were just like mine, bending at the elbow, with hands and fingers just like mine, except for the size, about an eighth of an inch. Again he brought his hand to his dry tongue. Do you doubt for a moment that he spoke to me about his thirst?
I set him down in the moist sand about two inches from the place where the water lapped the shore and I let my fingers dribble water down in front of him. He drank it; he gulped water down. Then he rested, then drank more, and more. Rested, more water. With no warning, he unfurled his wings, fanned out into the water as if he had a gentle breeze in his sails, and swam away from me. Have you ever seen a bat swim? Have you ever even seen a picture of a bat swimming? Oh glorious and graceful sight, oh human delight! He hauled himself with infinite grace onto the underside of a rock. I watched. He climbed, revived by mere water, climbed up under the rock and then over it and then up again. My work was done. On the definite underside of a rock, wedged well against other rocks, he hung upside down, asleep. So this is the dreaded bat.
Love one little thing and you love the entire universe that holds it, as well as the essence from which it pours forth, and the pulse that beats in it, and the breath that heaves it, and the awareness that connects it. Save one little thing and you save your soul entire.
That tiny desperate thirst is indeed your own, and you are quenched beyond measure, awakened in the water, merely for being there, responsive. This is what I learned from Molly Brown, the little dog with great spirit, slowly over the many years of her patient instruction, that words hinder the communications of the heart, acting often as stoppers to the ears of empathy, which would otherwise hear every pulsing breathing body.
“God speaks to us secretly and in silence,” said John of the Cross. Perhaps the language of God is silence because only in silence can I listendeepluy; and God is not shallow. The whole world is here, waiting to be heard, but I am too busy producing private words and thoughts to listen to it. I am so lulled by my word-making that I don’t even know I am doing it most of the time. In silence, words are reborn and they become something expressive, something worthy of care. In silence, we learn love. You do not need information about bats to know a dry tongue and a hand reaching for a parched throat, but you are unlikely to see that reaching hand unless you are still.
Surprise! The whole world is a message under the words. What I learned by way of Molly Brown—she who would be understood and not just condescended to—is that the whole world is there, waiting to be known, interested in me, as I am interested in it, that we, multitudinous and embodied, are also inseparable and in Love.”
To Continue Reading Spirit Unleashed, check out the book on Amazon.com
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