Horses are not machines - they are embodied souls. We can ordain them in our hearts, and many of us already do. We know they are our priests in their ways, even as we might also be priests to them in our ways. Whoever thinks priests must be human has not looked long at horses, or mountains, or dogs, or rivers.
And whoever thinks that liturgies must always occur with words has not listened to horses whinny, which is a kind of choral performance in its way; or watched horses meet nose on nose and blow on each other. They know through their noses. At the church I attend there is a moment in the liturgy when we stop and pass peace to one another. Horses pass peace with their noses.
As embodied souls horses enter into relations with other horse souls and also with human souls. These relationships are a kind of church in their way, in which two or three are gathered together. Sometimes they are constraining and sometimes freeing. Usually they are both. There's some kicking and biting and some nuzzling and pleasure.
If a relationship between horse and human is a kind of church, it is important that the human congregants avoid objectifying their kindred spirits and assuming that they are mere machines, mere instruments for use or souls to be conquered. In the world of horsemanship there are two competing philosophies. One emphasizes controlling the horse as a machine and the other emphasizes partnering with the horse as a companion in the journey of life. Process philosophy emphasizes the second approach. When it comes to horsemanship, it favors relational horsemanship over dominating horsemanship.
This doesn't mean that, in working with horses, there won't be biting and kicking on both sides! As Jonathon Field says in the video at the top of this page, it's not just buttercups and sunshine all the time. Truth be told, some of the kicking and biting has beauty, too. But even the kicking is encircled in a wider horizon of love.
At least this is what process theologians say. They say that God is the wider horizon of love in which we live and move and have our being, snort and kick and nuzzle. And they say that God is made in the image of horses, too. Every moment of a horse's life becomes part of God's life, just as every moment of a human life becomes part of God's life. Without horses and other living beings God would not be complete; horses are part of the greater glory.
Sometimes horses are forced into relationships with humans against their will, and sometimes this is a terrible thing. I have a good friend, a horse lover, whose life calling is to buy abused horses and find good owners for them. She hesitates to use the word owners, because she knows that horses are always more than their relationships with human beings. And she also knows that horses can own humans, too. In really good relations with horses, she says, there is mutual respect and mutual ownership. They own each other in creative ways.
In any case my good friend knows, as ought we all, that the soul of any living being, more-than-human or human, is not a thing: it is a weaving of relationships, moment by moment, experience by experience. When the relations among two souls are healthy, both parties are enriched by the relationship itself. It becomes, in a certain way, a friendship.
Don't let the word soul put you off. A soul is not supernatural; it is ultra-natural. As natural as the wind, as natural as feeling. Any living being who has a perspective of her own, who is a subject of her own life and not simply an object for others, has a soul. Or better, is a soul. Souls are not really things we have, as if we were one thing and our souls another. Souls are who we are, and they are who horses are, too.
Every soul is special and every soul is different. No two souls are exactly alike and each has its own personality. Just as no human being is merely a 'human being,' so no horse is simply a 'horse.' To reduce individual horses to a generic category is to miss the concreteness of each horse. Whitehead calls it the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
Relationships are always moving. When we ride horses we are in a soul-to-soul relationship, to be sure, and it is deeply incarnational: body to body, muscle to muscle, bone to bone. It is akin to a dance, a movement, a liturgy. The liturgy is not always happy; there can be tensions and frustrations. There can also be danger. Danger is not always a bad thing; it can also be a good thing, a kind of adventure. Liturgies without constructive danger, without challenge, lack vitality. It is important to distinguish between good danger and bad danger. Riding a horse, if done rightly, is good danger.
When we enter into bonded relationships with horses, the relationship is real and intimate. It is a kind of holy communion, guided by the Holy Spirit who is in the horse and in the rider. The Holy Spirit is the lure toward well-being that is inside the horse and the rider, and the Holy Spirit is also a third person in the very act of riding. The Spirit's aim is to enable the two to ride together without being suffocated by each other. One theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault, calls it the Law of Three.
In riding the horse and the rider are always looking for the Third Person.
They are looking for a Way which is filled with truth and life. Sometimes they find it, too. This is when the relationship becomes fully alive. This is liturgy at its best.
In the riding the horse and rider become priests to one another and priests to those who take heed of them in loving ways. We, the observers, become acolytes in a church that includes the more than human world within its ecclesiastical horizons. The church is a community of faith called life on Earth.
Our own hearts are widened in the process and we become closer to a wisdom, the Sophia, in whose heart the whole of creation unfolds. Some speak of this wisdom as God, who is the soul of the universe. We are to God as the muscles and bones of horse are to the horse. The horse weaves the muscles and bones into a self-creative soul, and God weaves the multiplicities of the universe into the Soul of the universe, whose wisdom is Sophia.
In the horse's wisdom, in her strength, in her life, the horse is an embodiment of the deeper Wisdom. This is one reason we ordain the horse. We need the wisdom.
Please understand. The horse does not need to be ordained for her own wholeness; she could still be herself, fulfilling her function as priest, even if we didn't ordain her. But we need to ordain her for our wholeness. We break out of the trappings of the merely human and, in the process, become more fully human.
Carter Heyward makes the case for all of this. She is a relational theologian who knows, as ought we all, that relationships are not restricted to the human sphere. There is feeling everywhere! This is why, in our secret hearts if not publicly, we need to ordain horses. Maybe all of them, including the feisty ones and the wild ones. And while we're at it let's ordain dogs and rivers, too. Mountains as well. Let's acknowledge their already-existing function as priests in our lives. Anybody got a prayer book?
-- Jay McDaniel