The Gospel According to Trees: Animal Kingdom

I’ve always been a sucker for animals. I have a long-standing (and well-deserved) reputation for adopting every stray dog that comes into my line of vision. I am currently spending my free time with a cat that showed up at my house a few weeks ago, acting like he was starving. I have a strong suspicion that he is actually a two-timing little schemer with a perfectly nice home somewhere else, but still I buy him cat food and let him sit on my lap while I read. I’ve always kept birds, am deeply devoted to my rescued bulldog Deacon, and am constantly trying to figure out a way to house sheep and a few chickens in my little corner of Los Angeles. Despite all these many affections, it is horses that first captured my heart and soul and maintain the preeminent place in my heart.

When I was eight years old I feel madly and irreversibly in love with all things equine. There appeared to be very little provocation towards this devotion; it was as if I just woke up one day with an undivided passion. My family was living in a lovely but decidedly suburban home in the middle of a young, developing community. We had some friends with two ancient ponies, but all other contact with the equestrian world was out of my reach.

I did what I could to get in touch with a realm well beyond my grasp. I bought Equus magazines with my tiny allowance, chopped up out-of-date horse calendars bought from the drug store for pennies, wall-papering my room with the pictures. I begged and begged for riding lessons, and, being a salesman at heart, soon convinced all my friends that they should be in love with horses too, thus developing a more powerful coalition to convince mothers to drive us to horse shows and tack stores. My parents obliged me, slowly, and my passion grew.

My love for horses was the first impetus in my life towards earnest prayer. At nine years old there was really nothing I could do to actually get a horse. I had no power to make my dream come true, so I prayed. I prayed every night and every morning that God would somehow fulfill the desires of my heart.

He did. One day I was at a friend’s house and my parents called me. They told me not to get too excited, but that they’d been on a bike ride in the countryside outside our town and a horse was for sale that they were considering buying for me. A family friend offered to keep the horse on their property, and I just about fainted. Within a few days, I had my very own little horse and I felt the personal and extravagant love of God in ways I never had before.

After that my dedication grew, as did my herd. We eventually moved out to the country and had five horses at the height of it all. My sister and I became avid competitors, and my dad even got himself a trail horse in order to take us camping in the Sierras, where we would ride deep into the mountains with only what our horses could carry.

My history with horses has served to demonstrate to me the significant roles animals have to play in God’s kingdom. God uses them to teach us to love those that need care, those that are different from us, those we don’t understand. They are also here to give us joy (I know some people don’t experience animals that way, but I sure do). I have felt God’s care and love through the joy of caring for animals and the affection they so willingly give back. Animals have been given a much more significant role in the created order than just that of biological necessity in the natural economy. They have been imbued with relational capacity, a capacity that is both their own and reveals God’s. Like the rest of the natural world, they have impact, sometimes significant impact, on our souls.

Some of the most significant spiritual developments in my life happened because of horses. I learned compassion and gentleness through rehabilitating an abused Quarter Horse who became my last competition horse. I experienced immense awe of God while riding into remote and beautiful places I would not have seen otherwise. I learned the value of hard work and dedication, and that losing a competition doesn’t damage one’s value. Most importantly, I learned that God cared about me as a person, and was willing to fulfill the ardent desires of a little girl who needed nothing but wanted something so, so much.

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  • Christof Meyer

    Ah Cate, good job. You wrestled with the “there” that’s there in our human desire to be with and take care of (and learn from) animals without crossing the line into anthropomorphizing them and making them into people.

    I grew up with horses (and pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, hamsters, goats… chickens, oh my!) and totally relate to the experience of being in nature with an animal that seems to love being with you as much as you enjoy being with it. And, contra many gaia-worshippers, when I was riding one of our horses I almost always felt more aware and connected with God and His workmanship than I did with my particular lovely animal. As if, somehow, we were all meant to be there on that hill, considering God and His love for us, and that all of us creatures of God (animals included) could share in that moment equally.

    Anyway, thanks for the thought. It brought me back to rural New Mexico for a bit…

  • Stephanie F.

    I’ve always thought God has a particular love of cattle. It’s fun to read through the Bible – especially OT – and watch how many times and in what situations cattle are mentioned. Love of horses I understand, cattle not so much.

  • Anya

    I’m not a religious person, but I have connected with animals in a way similar to you. I definitely feel the magic you describe. I really enjoyed reading this post.