Camp Chesterfield: Blessing of the Animals

Western Hotel, Camp Chesterfield, 8 pm.

This was my day to poke around here at Camp Chesterfield, the reunion over and a day remaining on my stay in the Western Hotel. I picked a poor day. Instead of the usual worship services held today thee was a blessing of the animals. Before that I went back to the gift shop, which has an unusual collection of books and items for sale.2010-10-03_0378

Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, by Robert Dale Owen seemed the most substantial work on spiritualism, so I picked up a copy. Written in 1860, a California outfit named Health Research has produced a facsimile edition. Most of the works on spiritualism were from the late 19th or early 20th century, the prevailing zeitgeist here at this 124 year old Spiritualist center. It will make for interesting reading.

I looked through many other books, including a series by Alice (?) that fills a bookshelf. A couple of the books interested me: White Magic and Esoteric Knowledge (actually 6 separate volumes), but at $27 or so a copy, I decided to pass. Besides, the book store plans to go online next month, so I’ll have access there whatever titles I want. Most of the ones that intrigued me were by presses I suspect even Amazon doesn’t carry.

Why do they intrigue me you might well ask. In part because this small subculture has shown durability over the centuries, persisting and now beginning, it seems, to thrive again. They tap into the universal hope that something persists after death, that death is not final, rather a transition to the Spirit world, or the non-physical plane. As a writer of fantasy novels, I like to use religious world views grounded in living or once living faith traditions. Not much has been done with Spiritualism and it carries such a strong overlay of Victorian and Edwardian sensibilities, that it makes a good setting for a novel.

As I made away across the grounds from the Western Hotel, the direction of transition in spiritualism, I passed a prayer grotto, a large marble angel, a setting of busts honoring creating of major faith traditions and a setting of concrete tables with two wooden chairs. These last I imagine were at one point the site of outdoor readings.

Just beyond the chairs and concrete tables was the cathedral. That’s what they call it. This is a rather modest cathedral, though it has two ranks of movie style seats and a large stage upon which a pulpit sits. The décor is simple, plain plaster, a couple of small stained glass windows and a statue of Jesus off stage right.

I began with a critical attitude. The nearly bald older woman in the flowery chiffon dress couldn’t pronounce Assissi or covenant, both coming out garbled at best. She also started the service with a CD of a 9/11 fireman singing God Bless America followed by the pledge of allegiance. Peculiar way to start a worship service unless in a militia camp. Then she read a brief bio of Francis, butchering the words yet again.

Once came she came down from behind the pulpit and discarded her professional persona for animal lover, the service got in synch. She loved each animal, from Great Danes to Italian Greyhounds and lively kitties to one brought forward in a roller bag because, as her own said, “She has severe arthritis.”

Our nearly bald celebrant said, “Well, I can identify with that.”

Animal after animal came down, got a sprinkling of holy water and a St. Francis medal and a dose of love. The celebrant assured us that the water and the medallions had been blessed by Fr. Justin. From a traditional theological perspective this was peculiar at best.

One of the Great Danes, almost as big as our Irish Wolfhounds, took it upon himself to lap noisily from the basin holding the holy water. A sanctified stomach.

As a couple of people came up with names of pets who had died, there were asked when the transition had occurred. They were then assured that St. Francis greeted each animals arrival, as did, in one case, another cat who had died—transitioned– in the last year. The grief and the joy which met all the animals or their owners who talked of loss was real and consoling and honoring.

Seeing the animals up there, participating in the service, made me realize how infrequently we give active attention to the sacredness of animals and the human-animal bond. This all felt more authentically spiritual than many services I’ve attended.

I shed a few tears for Hilo and Emma, both recently deceased—transitioned. It was an affecting time and one that convinced me of the sincerity of this unlettered woman who spoke of spirit and transitions.

I hope to get a Tarot card reading before I go, though because this is Sunday it seemed awkward to call people. I’ve got tomorrow morning yet.

This entry was posted in Aging, Dogs, Faith and Spirituality, Friends, Memories, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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