Having been granted permission by the king to build a centre for his mission, he then travels throughout the kingdom looking for an appropriate spot.
As he had his disciples are exploring something bizarre happens;
“…when lo and behold a single wild boar from the wood, entirely white, met them, and approaching the feet of the saint, moving his head, sometimes advancing a little, and then returning and looking backwards, motioned to the saint and to his companions, with such gestures as he could, to follow him…
When they came to the place that the Lord had predestinated for them, the boar halted, and frequently striking the ground with his foot, and making the gesture of tearing up the soil of the little hill that was there with his long tusk, shaking his head repeatedly and grunting, he clearly showed to all that that was the place designed and prepared by God.”
What is most interesting to me is what happens next.
“The boar, however, seeing what was done, came near, and by his frequent grunts seemed to ask somewhat of the bishop: then the saint, scratching the head of the brute, and stroking his mouth and teeth, said, ‘God Almighty, in Whose power are all the beasts of the forest, the oxen, the birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, grant thee for thy conduct such reward a He knoweth is best for thee’. Then the boar, as if well remunerated, bowing his head to the priest of the Lord, departed, and betook himself to his well-known groves.”
There are several points of interest in this story.
Firstly, it highlights something that contemporary Christians often forget; that the Bible tells us that the whole of creation is one, that mankind and animalkind are intrinsically linked.
You only have to look at the covenants God made with Adam and Noah to see that animals are included. Also, as we read the Law that God gave to Moses in order to establish the Jewish nation, we again see that animals are significantly involved.
Mankind was charged by God to take care of the creation, any authentic response to God will be expressed in a desire to take seriously this responsibility to care for the earth and its animals.
We see therefore throughout scripture that those who are closest to God seem also to have a deep relationship with animals. Think of Elijah who was fed by ravens, Elisha whose honour was defended by bears, Jonah who was transported by a fish, Daniel and the lions, Jesus and the fish that brought him a coin, to say nothing of Noah and the Ark!
Church history shows that same trend, with perhaps Saint Francis of Assisi being the best-known example of someone who saw the animals as his brethren.
So how should we live with the animals? Well Saint Kentigern gives us some clear guidance.
“scratching the head of the brute”
The first thing we see is the expression of gentleness and an attitude of love and appreciation expressed towards animals. Animals, like humans, seem to enjoy physical contact. The first thing Kentigern does is to express his love for the boar by giving him a good scratch.
“and stroking his mouth and teeth”
The second thing we note is a reference to the dangerous aspects of the animal. Wild animals are, by their very nature, dangerous. Living in rural France I have seen several hunting dogs with 30cm scars, caused by a wild boar striking out at them with its tusks. A Christian attitude towards animals will maintain a healthy respect for their wildness and their inherent danger, but will not allow this healthy fear to be a barrier to our appreciation for them and our willingness to live with them.
“God Almighty, in Whose power are all the beasts of the forest, the oxen, the birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, grant thee for thy conduct such reward a He knoweth is best for thee.”
The blessing that Kentigern prays over the boar expresses the reality of the difference between man and beast. Such is this difference that we often don’t know what is best for wild animals. Our existence is on a different level to theirs and has a very different context.
We need to acknowledge this humbly before God. We need to maintain the motivation of doing what is best for them, to bless them, and seek God for His guidance about how we can best achieve this.