by Wren Gray-Reneberg
This month we continue our New Year series on wellness because truly, in order to live a balanced, satisfying, and whole life, all areas of our humanity need to be addressed, including our emotional well-being. One resource that often goes under the radar, but can produce some incredible results is our furry friends (or scaly or feathered).
Humans and animals can form bonds that are unlike any other on earth. Whenever I pet my dog, Sammy, the yucky feelings, worries, and stresses of a bad day can somehow be pushed out of my mind, bringing a sense of calm, feelings of friendship and compassion, and a bond that is not easily described. Our friends and family can be wonderful emotional support; able to give hugs, share kinds words, and go out for coffee with us on a bad day. With animals though, it’s taken a step further. We’re not pressured to find topics of conversation, we don’t have to worry about what they might be thinking of us, we can spill our feelings and thoughts without consequence, and they won’t look on judgingly as we devour an entire bag of chocolates. They provide silent comfort and companionship.
This human-animal bond can offer more than just comfort on our couches though. The healing power of this bond is being put to use in professional settings, too. In equine and animal therapy, animals can be friends, role-models, and teachers. They are helping children with autism to learn social skills, people with low self-worth to gain confidence, people with depression to find happiness, and people with high anxiety to relax. This therapeutic interaction can be as simple as working with a dog to teach some tricks, taking care of a horse, talking to an animal to learn how to express feelings, or observing the negative reactions of a dog when a couple quarrels in therapy. A common misconception though is that dogs are the only therapeutic animals, but cats can teach patience; hamsters, responsibility; and bunnies, anger management.
I think God knew what was up when animals were created to be the first companions to humans. The essential act of loving and allowing ourselves to be loved brings us closer to God. For animal lovers without pets, there are other ways you can make a human-animal connection: you could volunteer at an animal shelter, offer to take a neighbor’s dog on a walk, or even foster a litter of kittens. If you do have an animal companion, there are plenty of opportunities to share this spiritual and emotional connection with others via Animal Assisted Activities programs, where owners take their certified dogs to nursing homes or hospitals. We are all on God’s earth to care for one another, and animals have so much to offer when it comes to love and compassion – we just have to make use of it!
Edward May and Winifred Matters were both born and baptized in St. Paul, Minnesota. Edward attended Concordia College there, and then Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Winifred married Edward the month he was ordained, in January of 1945. Their first call was to Vanport City, Oregon, a city that was later destroyed in a flood. In 1947, they founded Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Portland. During the Portland years, children Stephen, David, Lawrence and Virginia were born.
In 1958, Edward accepted a call to become the executive director of the Wheat Ridge Foundation in Chicago. Besides parenting, Winifred became a school secretary in Evanston, where she earned a life membership in the Illinois Congress of Parents and Teachers. Together, Winifred and Edward traveled across the world for Wheat Ridge work, to Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, India, New Guinea, Nigeria, the Middle East and elsewhere.
In 1973, Edward accepted the call as director of the Lutheran Office for World Community, part of the USA national committee of the Lutheran World Federation. The purpose was to identify, interpret and analyze world community issues, build relationships between church and appropriate delegates of the United Nations, and to represent the LWF at the UN headquarters. His work concentrated on human rights, with a particular focus on Namibia and South Africa, culminating with Namibia’s independence five years after his retirement.
In 1985, the Mays retired to Portland, again, where their sons lived, and joined St. Timothy Lutheran Church there. Winifred died in 2007, after 67 years of marriage. Edward followed her in death on December 13, 2011.
The Mays dedication to theological education continues with an estate gift to PLTS. In 1974, a group of faculty and students broke off from Edward’s alma mater, Concordia Seminary on theological grounds. That group formed Seminex, or Seminary-in-Exile. That institution thrived for several years, until faculty and students were folded into two other seminaries, which were the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Seminex, theological education that strives to honor tradition while living in the realities of our present world, is why the Mays wanted to leave a legacy gift for PLTS. Blessed be the memory of Edward and Winifred. We give thanks for you and the gifts you have shared, including the bold and faithful heritage that was Seminex.
Brian grew up in Connecticut and joined the PLTS community this spring as an exchange student from Luther Seminary. In St. Paul, Minnesota, he was the Teaching Parish Student at Zion Lutheran Church where he experienced worship and ministry in a diverse setting. Under the mentorship of Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt, he learned about the power of prayer. “I couldn’t believe it. She would pray and God would answer. She prayed that more children would come to church and before long, a college student showed up wanting to know if the church would let her begin a mentoring program for kids. A weekly after school homework help program began and now there are lots of kids who come to church, sometimes without their parents!” Children comprise about 50% of those in worship each week at Zion.
Theology and spirituality are Brian’s areas of interest when it comes to learning about God and walking the journey through seminary. “I’ve been interested in theology ever since I was young. My parents have told me about the time my Pastor asked a question during the children’s sermon and I taught everyone about the Trinity. Even though I don’t remember the experience, the story sticks with me and I think is one way that my call to be a Pastor took root early.”
While completing undergraduate studies at Valpraiso University, Brian completed his senior thesis on Native American spirituality. Prayer, mediation, and time to “connect with God in nature” are really important to him because they help us connect with the divine part of our spirits. “A lot of people turn to Eastern religions like Buddhism or Hinduism. We forget that meditation is a part of our tradition too. I make time to meditate because it keeps me centered and I really like the feeling of knowing that I’m connected to God. And I want to share this with others.” In his spare time, Brian reads about mysticism and new age spirituality and is enjoying the opportunity for adventure on the West Coast. He’s visited San Francisco and is excited to hike in Yosemite, play at Disneyland, see the Redwoods, and attend a baseball game. He is also looking forward to finding out soon where he will be serving on internship next year. “Wherever I go, I know it will be an adventure, and I trust God that I am where I am supposed to be.”
Brian also shared a poem, saying, "One of my favorite poems is this one; I hope you enjoy it!"
A Blessing of Solitude
May you recognize in your life the presence, power and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your own individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique,
that you have a special destiny here
that behind the façade of your life there is something beautiful, good and eternal happening.
May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God see you in every moment.
- From Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World by John O’Donohue
These articles is from the March 2013 issue of Above The Fog, the PLTS monthly e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe, and receive great articles and seminary news right in your inbox.