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When you read a great book, it’s like being in the time and place of the story and becoming friends with its characters. That’s where I’ve been the last few weeks: Yorkshire England, in the 1940’s, with country veterinarian James Herriot. is the first of a series of books; partly memoir, partly fiction, and totally delightful. How does he do it? James Alfred Wight (using the pen name of James Herriot) has turned out five books; each one reads like a prayer.
Let’s start with the titles in the collections of Herrriot's books:
1. All Creatures Great and Small
2. All Things Bright and Beautiful
3. All Things Wise and Wonderful
4. The Lord God Made Them All
5. Every Living Thing
Besides the fact that #4 actually has the word ‘God’ in it, the titles of the books sound almost holy. If only I was a clever enough prayer writer, I would write a prayer using only three to five words. If prayer is the vehicle to bring you closer to God, does it matter if you’re in a Mini-Cooper or a stretch limo? These book titles alone, are enough to dispel the myth that prayer has to be long and boring.
James Herriot Books
The next interesting thing about comparing Herriot’s work to prayer is the fact that the books are written as vignettes. Every chapter tells its own story. I find my prayer life is like that. Every time I take time to pray, I’m telling God a story— my story of the moment, the past or what I’m hoping will come. And if I’m very quiet, I can hear God telling a story back to me.
The Herriot books are about animals and people. Looking for a book on architecture or economics? Look elsewhere. When you’re doing the kind of reading that completely transports you; brick and mortar, paper and gold will not do the trick. Who can resist the affection of a puppy, or the strength of a horse in motion? The way we relate to animals is godly, when our actions show compassion, and when we appreciate the love we get in return.
The other day I got an email from a Daily Prayables subscriber, requesting a change of address. I forwarded it on to Webmaster Ed, my better half on the Prayables team, and Keeper of the Database. The opening line was: ‘Dear Luvers of Christ...’ Ed wrote back to me, playfully responding; “Should I break it to him that we're not all Christians at Prayables? That I'm probably be classified as a Animist, and that we have real Jewish and Muslim people here too?”
Animist, huh? For a founder of a multi-faith prayer community, I have a lot to learn! Luckily, there’s Wikipedia:
Animism is a philosophical, religious or spiritual belief that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment.
What a perfectly beautiful concept! Apparently many of the world religions hold this belief. It’s also noted that children are often animistic. They’ll tell you their teddy bear is tired, or the TV is grouchy. Come to think of it, I have very strong evidence that my laptop has human qualities. It’s stubborn, finicky and gets pissed at me regularly.
I love that All Creatures Great and Small and the other James Herriot books, give soul and spirit to its characters. It’s a blessing to realize that the people, animals and landscapes of mid-century Yorkshire, as described in these books, are an inspiration to me and the literary prayer that connects me to the Divine.
From Rags to Riches
Seated on a lofty perch
she held her Persian head high.
Thank You for allowing me
to perceive the subtle dignity
that elevated a homeless feline
to the stature of royalty
despite her humble surroundings.
There is kindness present
where animals are sheltered.
Thank You for the compassion
that changes circumstances forever.
You have imprinted upon the human spirit.
the resilience to survive times of trouble,
Thank you for reminding me
that like our furry friends;
with You, we are never homeless.
- Sharon Sinclair