On the fourth Sunday of every month, one of us on the pastoral staff helps to lead a service of worship at Riverbend prison. Either John, Mark or I will drive out to Cockrill Bend Boulevard early in the morning to be with the Riverbend congregation of Christ United Methodist Church. We pray, read scripture and share communion together, and every time I go I am blessed. This past Sunday was no exception. As I pulled into the driveway of Riverbend at about 7:15 a.m., I looked to my left and saw through the mist a whole flock of deer grazing in the lush green grass. It was a beautiful scene that took my breath away. I stopped my car just to look at them, silent and peaceful as they stood there together. Some of them serenely looked back at me, unafraid.
Something about those deer reminded me of God’s silent, strong presence. It’s as if they were keeping watch. The concrete walls and barbed wire fences of the prison did not scare them or keep them away. They didn’t even seem to notice them. They seemed to feel just at home on that lawn as they would anywhere on earth. There they stood, almost in solidarity with those inside the walls, keeping watch and standing close.
After the other volunteers and I got through security, we made our way across the prison yard toward the chapel. Toward the bottom of the hill, I saw three cats—no, four!—running and playing inside the barbed wire fence. Apparently, there’s a family of cats that has decided to make their home inside the walls of Riverbend! They were skipping and jumping and chasing like they were the happiest kittens in the world. They didn’t see the walls either. They didn’t notice the fence. They just seemed happy to have a lot of people around and some green grass to jump in. I later learned from some of our brothers there that these little cats have brought a spark of humanity back into the hearts of many who walk across that quad every day.
A flock of deer. A family of cats. It’s amazing what God can use to get into the hearts of people. On Sunday, October 5, at 4:00, we will host a Blessing of the Animals service out at the pavilion. Many of you have animals in your family, and you know firsthand how you experience God’s love, comfort and companionship through them. Before I became a dog-owner, I used to misunderstand the attachment that people had with their pets. Now I get it. Boy, do I get it.
And as I have been re-reading my way through the scriptures this fall, I have been amazed at how many times animals are mentioned. They are an integral part of the story, and we are meant to be good stewards of them and of all the earth. In return we get to experience a unique kind of companionship—a love that is not afraid of our walls or turned away by our barbed wire.
I hope you’ll come to the pavilion on Sunday afternoon, even if you don’t have an animal to bring with you. Let’s join together in thanking God for the beauty and wonder of God’s creatures, and let’s recommit ourselves to being good stewards of all of creation!