‘Said the night wind to the little lamb …’

As a city child connecting with nature, animals, and the bigger picture of Christmas, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” became a favorite. The story behind the song, which I learned only recently, deepens its meaning for me.

But first, the story in the song: The night wind speaks to a little lamb of a brilliant star. The lamb tells a shepherd boy of music high above the trees. The shepherd boy tells a king about a child shivering in the cold of a humble stable and worthy of riches. The king tells the people this child is the bearer of goodness and light … and exhorts all to pray for peace.

Each being tells another about what they see, hear, and know. They’re all experiencing a different aspect of what is happening. None of them are wrong.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis by an American husband-and-wife team. According to this Franciscan Media account, French-born lyricist Noel Regney endured horrible trauma during World War II after being drafted to fight for the Nazis. The threat of catastrophic war in 1962 brought it all back as he faced the task of writing a Christmas song for a record producer.

Then Regney saw two babies in strollers smile at each other on a New York street. Their innocence reminded him of lambs … and there was the beginning of the song. At home, he wrote down the lyrics and asked his then-wife, pianist and composer Gloria Shayne, to write the music. Neither could get through the song without crying, Shayne recalled later.

That was the light they found and shared during during a dark time. We can share our light, too — through a smile, a prayer, a gentle pet, an ear scratch, a bag of food to an animal shelter or rescue. It doesn’t matter how small, stupid, or pointless we might think it is. That bag of food might help a lonely veteran keep his dog. Your smile at the woman at the grocery store may be the only kindness she experiences that day. That prayer may turn on a light for you.

“Pray for peace, people everywhere,” indeed.

Bing Crosby’s 1963 rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is probably the best known. I grew up with the Andy Williams version from the 1966 Great Songs of Christmas album. For this tribute to the animals I’ve worked with this year in my animal communication and animal Reiki practice — and their wonderful people — I chose Mannheim Steamroller’s instrumental version.

Just like the little lamb, the animals of our time tell brilliant stories of hope. I’ve heard a cat’s deep love for her person as she is ready to cross, a draft horse’s amazement at being able to choose, a deaf and blind duck giving life a chance, and more. For each one, I am grateful.

(Photo by Allison Wheaton)

The naming of horses

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I caught Dolly in the middle of lunch with hay on her face, but her star quality shines through.

There are many rules for naming racehorses, but none for your average equine citizen. From what I’ve observed, horses often get new names when they get new people, new homes, new jobs, a second chance, or any combination of these. Some retired racehorses, like my friends Beau and Pirate, go by shorter versions of their racing names.

This isn’t unique to horses. Look at the way we humans take on and drop nicknames, take spouses’ names, reclaim family names, hyphenate, and depending on who’s talking, go by names like Mom.

One horse I know chose a name his new person wouldn’t have picked in a million years. Another came by hers through blonde star synchronicity. Yet another, when given the choice, kept the name she had.

Duke

I felt the sadness of the 17-year-old shire as soon as Allison Wheaton, director of Summit Equestrian Center, sent me his photo. After years as an Amish farm horse, and apparently not the best of situations, he was to become Summit’s newest resident late last year.

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This is Duke a few months after his arrival at Summit Equestrian Center. He still wasn’t out with the herd, but he’d decided he liked Reiki.

Allison asked me to communicate with him before he arrived and find out what he needed in the transition, and what he might like to do. And would he like a new name, or would he prefer to keep the one he had (Angmar)?

The notion that he had a choice about anything was a strange concept to this heavy-hearted soul. Yet when I asked him what he wanted to be called, I heard: “Just call me Duke.”

I passed that along. Since most school/sports rivalries are not on my radar, it didn’t occur to me that Allison, a University of North Carolina grad, might wince at the name of her alma mater’s chief rival. As I learned later, she had vowed never to name a dog, horse, or anything else Duke. But Duke it was.

As fall deepened into winter, Duke acclimated and found his footing as a therapy horse. He found he appreciated being listened to and liked Reiki, especially once he realized it was his choice. Getting him to the point where he could join the rest of the horses in the pasture took months, many introductions, and a few scuffles.

Then one day this spring, Duke caught my eye from across the pasture. He was standing up straight, ears forward, with the rest of the crew.

“Do you see where I am? Do. You. See. Where. I. Am?” I heard.

Yes, Duke … I see you.

Dolly

Malibu, a Tennessee Walker-Belgian cross, had a few different homes by the time she joined the Summit herd. No one seemed to have time for her, and now she had no idea where she belonged.

Three or four days later, “Hello, Dolly!” — from the musical of the same name — got stuck in my head. I listened to the album over and over as a child and saw Carol Channing in what many consider her signature role as Dolly. But I hadn’t heard it recently or thought of it much.

The day after that, I received a text from Allison that the newcomer had settled in a bit, but Malibu didn’t seem like the right name. “Dolly? There’s got to be a sassy blonde star name that fits better,” she said.

I told her about the musical and sent a video link to the song. It includes the lyric “Tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days.”

Allison was thinking of Dolly Parton and I was thinking of the fictional Dolly Levi — but both seemed to fit. So Dolly it was, and she’s already shed stardust on a couple of participants in Summit’s veterans program.

Lulu

Some horses keep their names. Lulu, a beautiful paint mare, was rescued from a horrible neglect situation. As Lulu began a new chapter at Summit, Allison asked me to see if she wanted a new name as well … like Cheyenne?

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Lulu has been learning to trust again.

When I asked Lulu, she told me she knew who she was and it didn’t matter what the humans called her. Cheyenne was fine, but she was also fine with sticking with Lulu, so that’s what we did.

Recovery is all about ups and downs, and less than two years later, Lulu’s is no exception. She has a good buddy in Pirate, one of the aforementioned retired racehorses, and she’s helped some of Summit’s human clients heal their own wounds. Every time I check in with her, even if she is struggling with the effects of her past, I see her choose to give her new life — still as Lulu — a chance.

You tell me …

How did your horse friends get their names … or new names?

Seeking St. Francis

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Sufi Ahmad’s sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi stands outside the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

At one time, all I knew about St. Francis of Assisi was that he was the patron saint of animals. Though not Catholic and therefore unschooled in the saints, I thought that was pretty cool. Only later, when my partner and I took our cat and dog to an animal blessing at the University of Saint Francis, did I begin to learn more about this Italian friar who talked to birds and used phrases such as “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.”

Catholic and Protestant communities alike — including my alma mater, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary — observe his feast day, Oct. 4, with pet blessings and other services honoring the natural world.

Francis died in 1226, so there’s been ample time for legend and interpretation to rise and fall. Proving the authenticity of his quotes and prayers is not my purpose here (though, as a journalist, I can’t help wishing someone had done so back then). Yet his story is timeless.

Born into wealth, he partied hard and aspired to knighthood. Gradually, a place in his heart known only to him and his creator led Francis to live like a pauper and turn his focus to serving God. Though a religious order seemed a wee bit too similar to military life for his comfort, he would go on to found the Franciscan monastic order.

Statues (such as the one above) and other artworks most often portray Francis in the company of birds, and it is said that they came and listened to him preach. In one story, he told them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests.

The birds probably already knew that, but who among us couldn’t use a reminder? They apparently stayed perfectly still as he walked among them. I’m sure there were times, especially among his animal friends, when Francis didn’t speak a word.

Preach the gospel. When necessary, use words. (Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)

In my animal Reiki and animal communication practice and with my own animal companions, I often seek the aid of St. Francis. Not in place of God, but as a member of God’s team. Francis of Assisi loved and respected animals when he walked the earth and, in spirit, is in an even better position to look out for them now. I mean, he’s probably the patron saint of animals and the environment for a reason. 

We need all the help we can get on (not to mention for) earth. The good news is that being better stewards of the earth, the animals, and ourselves is within our grasp.

If God can work through me, He can work through anyone. (Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)

(Information drawn, in part, from Catholic Online and Biography Online.)