Promises of the Rainbow

Why the Rainbow Bridge serves as a symbol of hope, peace, and rest for both pets and humans.

BY: Ptolemy Tompkins


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In spiritual terms the bridge is the ultimate symbol of the fact that heaven, though separate from earth, isn’t out of reach completely. That’s why the great American poet Hart Crane chose a bridge (specifically one right here in New York City, Brooklyn Bridge) as the subject for his most famous poem, “The Bridge,” in which he longs for “one arc synoptic of all tides below.” In plainer words: a spiritual bridge that will join earth and heaven together again, once and for all.

Why a rainbow bridge? We have one man to thank for that. That man, of course, is Noah.

Everyone knows the story. God, tired of the mess that humans are making of things down here on earth, finally loses patience and releases a torrent of waters. Noah, warned by God of what is coming, builds an ark and gathers two of every animal on earth into it. When, after 40 days, the waters at last subside, God hangs a glorious arc of color across the heavens: the world’s first rainbow.

This bow in the sky stands as a promise. “I establish my covenant with you,” God says to Noah, “and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you.... I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.”

The repetitions in this passage (“every living creature,” “all that go out of the ark,” “all flesh”) are important. It’s not just Noah and his family that God is addressing in this speech. It’s all of creation. Not only will God never shut himself away from humankind again. Neither will he abandon any of the other living creatures with which we share the earth, either now or in the future.

In the end the question of who wrote “Rainbow Bridge” doesn’t matter all that much. Whether we see the poem as an exact description of what awaits us in the life to come, or whether we choose to see it more as a metaphor for a reality too great for us to fathom here below, the promise at work in this beloved piece of writing is one that we can take completely seriously. Nothing of what we love down here on earth is ever truly lost. Though this world is imperfect and fallen, there exists a place where the pain of that imperfection will be healed. Not just for humans, but for every creature, great and small.

That’s a promise.


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