A peculiar thing happened to me last night. We had company in town to spend the evening, had celebrated with a meal out at a restaurant, and came home to a house full of laughter, happy dogs and a playful cat. I had spent a good half hour rocking my daughter to sleep, had found a cup of coffee, and was sitting down to read at my desk when I made a mistake. I reached down to get my headphones from next to my desk without checking the aquarium that sits directly next to my desk. I glanced up to find Seymour, my albino plecostomus doing his very best b-movie monster impression a couple of inches from my face.
Yes, I was startled by a fish. In my defense, he’s a freaky looking fish when the light is low, the sun has set, and he is backlit by the blue aquarium light. He’s a scary little monster fish.
I laughed it off, took a picture, shared it on Facebook, and let it go for a while. Later that night, while contemplating life, I came across a prayer found within the compline prayer in Phyllis TIckle’s “The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime.” The prayer is originally from the compline service within “The Book of Common Prayer.” The prayer reads as follows:
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or week this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”
A part of me recalled the work of Seymour within the fish tank. Seymour scared the daylights out of me last night, but he also was going about his work. Yes, he has work.
Let me be clear on the nature of my pet ownership. I have dogs because I love dogs and they keep me company when my family is away. I have and care for a cat, despite my allergies, because the cat keeps mice out of my house. I have a fish-tank because I find it calming. I have two catfish because they keep the bottom of the tank clean between water-changes. I have and care for Seymour, because Seymour cleans the glass. Seymour is a working fish—he earns that algae wafer when the walls of the aquarium are clean.
Is it wrong of me to think of Seymour falling under the blessing of this prayer? Well, I am betting the Book of Common Prayer was not composed with fish in mind, but I wouldn’t be surprised if dogs weren’t looked upon as worthy of blessing over the centuries as they kept cattle and families safe from predators. I wouldn’t be surprised if God’s blessing weren’t prayed often over livestock and other means of survival. Knowing at least my portion of humanity pretty well, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if remembering this tiny part of God’s creation were not a part of a long tradition of prayer.
Yes, a part of me recalled Seymour’s endless work on the glass of the fish tank, but then wandered towards other parts and places. I remembered the staff at a Nursing Home that had been caring for a church member who passed recently. I thought of the folks who were working the night shift near that bed which used to hold someone dear to the hearts of our congregation. I stopped to pray for those nurses, those aides, and the staff in that facility.
I remembered the staff at nearby Wilson and Lourdes hospitals. I remembered how often I had walked through those parking lots, those parking garages, and those corridors over the past few years. I thought of the doctors, the nurses, and the staff that had blessed so many different families through their ministries over the years. I remembered and prayed.
From there, I thought of the Maine Ambulance workers, the local fire department, the officers that keep the streets safe, and all of the folks resting before tomorrow. I thought of teachers dreaming of lesson plans and children, children resting before going to school to learn and possibly dash the hopes of following a lesson plan for their teachers, and for cafeteria workers who would get up really early to prepare food for hungry children who do not have breakfast at home.
All of this and more came about after reflecting on the work of silly startling Seymour. You can say what you want about the strangeness of praying for a fish who will live his life in a handful of fish tanks, but Seymour blessed me by bringing my thoughts into focus. Seymour led me to pray for others. Thanks Seymour—you have been a blessing to me.