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The Ark and the Covenant: Living in Godly Relationship,
 by Debra Farrington

Author says pet-person pledges have 'real integrity'
New book explores holy covenants between humans and their animal friends
By Eileen E. Flynn
November 27, 2005

Debra Farrington's new book, 'The Ark and the Covenant: Living in Godly Relationship,' has a new take on people's relationships with their animal companions, such as her dog, Paris.

As the former head of Morehouse Publishing, Debra Farrington has seen her share of clever "What I Learned from my Cat" books.

She won't deny learning a few things from her feline brood. But as a Christian, Farrington sought a deeper discussion on the spiritual obligations humans have to their animal companions.

Debra Farrington's new book, 'The Ark and the Covenant: Living in Godly Relationship,' has a new take on people's relationships with their animal companions, such as her dog, Paris.

"What's missing from the market is a look at what our responsibility is from, in this case, a Christian perspective," said Farrington, who is working on a book she hopes will tackle that question.

Last month, she was selected for a visiting-fellow program at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest and spent two weeks on the Austin campus writing the final chapters for "The Ark and the Covenant: Living in Godly Relationship."

Just as God took joy in all of creation and formed a covenant with the animals after the flood, Farrington, an Episcopalian author of several books on spirituality, believes that God wants people to treat nonhuman creatures with care and respect.

With the memories still fresh of Hurricane Katrina victims forced to abandon their animals in order to be rescued, Farrington believes that the concepts she writes about are particularly pressing.

"The country as a whole woke up and was outraged," she said. "It shouldn't have happened."

On a stormy October afternoon, Farrington, a petite 50-year-old with smooth brown hair, sips hot tea at a coffee shop near campus and talks about the covenant she urges people to form with their pets and how day-to-day responsibilities, such as cleaning the litter box and administering medicine, can be seen as sacramental duties.

In the book's introduction, Farrington explains that taking on responsibility for animals helps people exercise the Benedictine Order's practices of stability and obedience, and that caring for sick animals teaches the compassion of Jesus. When people view animals as their brothers and sisters in God's creation, she says, they can experience a holy relationship.

A covenant "isn't just about, 'Oh, my cute cat,' " she said. "It's got some real integrity."

Back home in Pennsylvania, Farrington and her new husband have a blended family of five cats. Her husband's 10-year-old son longed for a dog. So when the couple brought home a Labrador-hound mix from the shelter, Farrington decided it was the perfect opportunity to encourage her stepson to embrace his new responsibility in a Christian context.

Using excerpts from liturgies written by the Rev. Andrew Linzey, a University of Oxford theologian who promotes animal rights, Farrington created a blessing ceremony not unlike a baptism.

Instead of questions such as "Do you renounce Satan?" this rite asks participants, "Will you walk the dog every day, even when it's 10 below?"

Animal liturgies are nothing new; they date to the fourth century, according to Laura Hobgood-Oster, associate professor of religion at Southwestern University in Georgetown and author of "Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the History of the Christian Tradition."

And today, thousands of churches bless dogs, cats, cows, birds and other creatures every October in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. The number of those blessings has skyrocketed in recent years, Hobgood-Oster said.

And yet most Christian leaders seem unwilling to acknowledge the spiritual significance of animals, said Paul Waldau, director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

"What's fascinating is, the contemporary Christian leadership seems to be completely ignorant of this and very arrogant that they don't need to know their own history about this," he said.

Waldau hopes Farrington's book will inspire people to learn about that history and get involved with caring for animals on a local level.

Farrington's own goal with the book is to offer practical and pastoral advice in plain English, something that falls between the dense academic articles written by theologians and the animal "fluff" books that she says pervade the mainstream market.

"I think we've reach a point where people are ready to take it more seriously," she said. "This is a good starting place, especially for people with kids."

eflynn@statesman.com; 445-3812

ON THE WEB: http://debrafarrington.com

Action for Animals
PO Box 456
Austin, TX 78767
512-236-9518
www.ActionForAnimalsAustin.org

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