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Man looking out over body of water - Image by Clément Falize


These 12 Reflections are refreshed monthly.

Click here to see archived Reflections from previous months.

Today, When I Could Do Nothing

(A Reflection by Jane Hirshfield from One Year Ago)

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

A morning paper is still an essential service.
I am not an essential service.

I have coffee and books,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Then across the laptop computer — warm —
then onto the back of a cushion.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?
It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom —
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this

By Jane Hirshfield, an American poet, essayist and translator. Her ninth book of poetry, Ledger, was published March 10, 2020. She wrote this poem March 17, the day that the San Francisco Bay Area’s six-county shelter-in-place protocol went into effect. 

To be ‘for animals’ is not to be ‘against humanity.’ To require others to treat animals justly, as their rights require, is not to ask for anything more nor less in their case than in the case of any human to whom just treatment is due. The animal rights movement is a part of, not opposed to, the human rights movement. Attempts to dismiss it as anti-human are mere rhetoric.

From The Case for Animal Rights (2004) by Tom Regan, an American philosopher and author of numerous books on the philosophy of animal rights.

Animals are God’s creatures, not human property, nor utilities, nor resources, nor commodities, but precious beings in God’s sight … Christians haven’t got much further than thinking that the whole world was made for us, with the result that animals are only seen in an instrumental way as objects, machines, tools, and commodities, rather than fellow creatures.

From Creatures of the Same God: Explorations in Animal Theology (2009) by The Reverend Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest, theologian and founder and Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

Animals run no risk of going to hell. They are already there.

By Victor Hugo, French dramatist, novelist and poet.

Since I and other beings both, in wanting happiness are equal and alike,

What difference is there to distinguish us that I should strive to have my bliss alone?

Since I and other beings both, in fleeing suffering are equal and alike,

What difference is there to distinguish us that I should save myself and not the others?

From A Guide to the Bodhisattva Path (“The Bodhicharyavatara”) by Shantideva.

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is amazing; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

By Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century.

Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people, Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos, are all cut from the same fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves.

From a letter written in 1990 by Cesar Chavez, an American labor leader, community organizer, civil rights activist and, together with Dolores Huerta, founder of the National Farm Workers Association.

Animals and humans suffer and die alike. Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and vicious taking of life. We shouldn’t be a part of it.

From Callus on my Soul: A Memoir (2003) by Dick Gregory, American comedian, civil rights and anti-war activist.

Compassion is a verb.

From Love is Compassion in Action (2012) by Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master, global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist.

One thing to remember is to talk to the animals. If you do, they will talk back to you. But if you don’t talk to the animals, they won’t talk back to you, then you won’t understand, and when you don’t understand you will fear, and when you fear you will destroy the animals, and if you destroy the animals, you will destroy yourself.

From My Heart Soars (1989) by Chief Dan George, Chief of Tseil-Waututh Nation, actor, musician, poet and author.

There is a Green Faith religious revolution underway. It is taking place on every continent, within every faith tradition. It is changing the way people of faith understand and experience God, and what it means to have a moral life. It is changing the ways in which people worship and pray, eat, travel, and use resources like energy and water. It is adding a new dimension to the policy advocacy that faith communities have done for decades. And it is drawing a small but growing number of people of faith into various forms of public witness and nonviolent civil disobedience. The religious-environmental movement is ready for prime time.

From Green Faith: Mobilizing God’s People to Save the Earth by Rev. Fletcher Harper, Episcopal Priest, spiritual writer and founder of Green Faith.

Four Daily Goals:

1. Wake up alive every morning.

2. Treat every living being with compassion and make the world a better place for all. 

3. Go to bed at peace with the day’s thoughts and actions.

4. Wake up alive the next day and start again.

From the Compassion Consortium

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