The senseless killing of Cecil, the nationally beloved lion in Zimbabwe by an American big-game hunter has provoked a media storm of angry protest and controversy. Closer to home last year, Cheeky, a grizzly bear beloved by the First Nations who shared his territory, was shot and killed by an unapologetic NHL hockey star. This angered First Nations’ people as well as many other British Columbians.
But the critical newspaper articles and social media frenzy in response to what has been historically a commonplace practice – i.e., hunting – indicates that these instances (and others) have awoken something in our hearts. Is it that the senseless killing of creatures for nothing more than the purpose of sport is beginning to make less and less sense as we grow in our understanding of the connectedness and value of all life?
In a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, titled “Why we no longer idolize big game hunters,” correspondent Lisa Suhay discusses an interesting book by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, The better angels of our nature – Why violence has declined. In a letter to the Monitor, Pinker points out that it was not that long ago that big-game hunters were celebrated individuals in society. He feels that this current trend is a growing realization that killing for fun is wrong.
Cecil and Cheeky may be rallying points for public anger, but there is no doubt that the moral compass regarding how we treat each other and the animals with whom we share this planet is undergoing a major rethink in Western society. But does it have any staying power amid our flighty attention spans? I think it does, especially as we begin to understand that how we treat each other and our fellow creatures is essential to both individual as well as universal health. And because, as I believe, we are all expressions of one Creator.
According to a 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), violence towards animals is often a precursor to violence against people and their property. As we know, violence not only wounds the victim but also the perpetrator. Decades of research and study have shown that, when we learn to cherish the compassionate and caring in human nature, we become less prone to violence and are mentally and physically healthier. These studies have prompted the development of a wide variety of therapies around the world that use the caring for plants and animals as a pathway to better health.
The recent beautiful story of the orca that beached herself near Hartley Bay on Vancouver Island and was kept alive by a group of people until the tide came in, is another example of how this recognition of the value of all life is increasing. What these rescuers said about their experience gives us insight into this deep connection we have with the nature around us. One woman said that when she heard the whale crying, she felt sorrow throughout her whole body. They all felt deep empathy for the whale as they struggled all day to save her, and great joy when they finally saw her swim away.
Over the course of human history, from hunter-gatherer societies on through today, how we have seen and treated each other and other species has varied widely.
Today, there is a growing understanding, through studies in biology and atmospheric science, that all life in the universe is connected. Some individuals throughout history have glimpsed this and written about it. The Jewish prophet Isaiah, for example, speaks of this interconnectedness in a well-loved verse:
“Wolves will live with lambs. Leopards will lie down with goats. Calves, young lions, and year-old lambs will be together, and little children will lead them. Cows and bears will eat together. Their young will lie down together. Lions will eat straw like oxen. Infants will play near cobras’ holes. Toddlers will put their hands into vipers’ nests. They will not hurt or destroy anyone anywhere on my holy mountain. The world will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord like water covering the sea.”
It’s not just that Isaiah is seeing man as non-violent, but that he is offering a glimpse of a universe where the fact that all creatures are the expression of the one divine Life results in behaviour and existence that is very different from our current experience. This view can have a powerful, healing practicality in our lives.
I recently glimpsed this connection in a meaningful way that helped me understand life as an expression of God rather than something housed in me or some other creature. I was sitting near a patio window when three tiny birds crashed into the glass balustrade surrounding my deck. All three were knocked senseless; one in particular seemed in very bad shape. I felt a deep sense of compassion. Sitting there quietly, I prayed. What came to me in those quiet moments was a sense of surety that their lives, and mine, were embraced by the life of the Divine – Love itself. It was a moment when I truly saw life as spiritual and sacred.
Pretty soon, two of the birds hopped up and flew away, but there was no movement from the third one. In fact, he looked worse than ever, lying motionless and upside down. However, I did not back down from what I had seen about life as spiritual. I gently walked over to him, talking as I did so, and put him right side up in what seemed a more comfortable position. After quite a while, I saw him move and stand up, but he seemed unable to fly over the balustrade. I gently picked him up and held him in my open hand. He sat there for a moment, and then, lifting his wings, flew up and away. I felt that same uplifting joy and connectedness that I imagine those who saved the orca also experienced.
Being reminded that all life is governed by, and connected to the Divine gives us glimpses into the source and sacredness of our own, and others lives. It enables us to better understand that health is not an individual accomplishment, but rather a reflection of Life itself.
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun on August 10 2015 HERE