2016-11-24 / Life in Leelanau

Advent-urous book explores God, animals

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

THE REV. Robin Carden, pastor of Suttons Bay Congregational Church has written an Advent devotional for children of all ages. An animal lover, she is pictured here with her dog, Ginny.THE REV. Robin Carden, pastor of Suttons Bay Congregational Church has written an Advent devotional for children of all ages. An animal lover, she is pictured here with her dog, Ginny.
A Suttons Bay pastor has written a book about animals that can help prepare young — and young at heart — readers spiritually for Christmas.

The Rev. Robin Carden of Suttons Bay Congregational has written “Advent with the Animal,” a daily devotional she wrote during a one-month sabbatical this fall.

“I wanted to spend some time learning about animals and figured this was a constructive way to apply it to my work,” she said. “It combined three of my favorite things: animals, writing and Advent.”

Advent is the four-week period preceding Christmas during which Christians prepare spiritually for the birth of Christ.

The Advent season was an important part of Carden’s family life growing up in Ohio. But it wasn’t always that significant in the Protestant church, according to Carden.


THIS ADVENT devotional was written for children in grades 3-8 but can be enjoyed by adults as well. THIS ADVENT devotional was written for children in grades 3-8 but can be enjoyed by adults as well. “It wasn’t until the last 30 or 40 years that it became part of the Protestant tradition,” she said.

Even so, Advent can become overshadowed by secular activities such as shopping, baking holiday cookies and writing letters to Santa. So Carden set out to bring the “reason for the season” into focus.

“Often when we consider ways to learn about God we think of going to church, reading the Bible and praying,” she said. “Another way ... is by exploring what God creates, including animals.”

As part of her research, the pastor spent time at the Detroit and Toledo zoos, spoke with church members about their favorite animals and went to the Internet to learn more about God’s creatures.

“When we study the characteristics of one of the animals God creates, we learn about God,” Carden said.

The 28-page booklet focuses on one animal daily by sharing information and little-known facts about the featured creature. She then ties the information to scripture and provides a corresponding short prayer.

Take for instance, the hippopotamus.

“Did you know they produce their own sunscreen?” Carden asked.

Like humans, hippos sweat. But their sweat has a natural sunscreen in it. Without that sunscreen, a hippo’s skin would burn in the sun.

“Hippos sweating their own sunscreen … reminds us that God gives us what we need,” she wrote. “During this time of year, it’s fun to make Christmas lists of things we want. But Advent is also a good time to be reminded that God give us what we need, no matter what’s under the tree for us on Christmas morning.”

She uses a lesser-known African animal to illustrate how appearances can be deceiving.

The okapi are hoofed animals with stripes like zebras, but are more closely related to the giraffe. Their necks aren’t as long as the giraffe, but they have “ossicones” — horn-like structures on their heads reminiscent of the related creature.

“The okapis’ giraffe-like appearance reminds us that when it comes to God, things aren’t always as they seem,” Carden wrote.

Other interesting animals featured in the book include:

 Cicada, which dig themselves eight feet into the ground and survive by sucking moisture out of plant roots.

 Sloths, which can take as long as a month to digest a single meal.

 Meerkats, which can stand on their hind legs for about an hour at a time while looking out for predators.

Creatures from closer to home featured in the booklet are bluegill, chipmunks and chickens.

Carden announced completion of the project via Facebook and was surprised with the response.

“Within a day, there were over 120 orders from people who are not in my church,” she said. “Just friends of friends.”

Orders came in from as far away as Colorado and Maine.

The pastor’s home church has agreed to pay for printing and shipping costs as part of their outreach effort.

The booklets are available locally by donation by calling the church at 271- 6035.

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