(God) Must Love Dogs

dog-190054_640

Originally published at Deeper Story

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to “go preach the good news to every creature”, so Saint Francis of Assisi did precisely that.

 

Saint Francis did not believe the good news was exclusively meant for homosapiens, he was not a speciest in any way. In his view, the whole world incarnated the kingdom of God: from people to pythons to pretty little ladybugs, God was alive in everything. Everything gave glory to God.

 

Stories of his life tell of him standing beneath a canopy of forest filled with all kinds of birds who were rapt in attention as Francis preached about God’s love for them. Historical accounts say he called the sun “brother” and the moon “sister.” Legend has it a small town was being stalked by a vicious wolf, so Francis ventured into the wilderness to find him, where he converted him to Christianity, and brought him back to the town for reconciliation with the people, leading to the wolf becoming the town guard.

 

Like Francis, I adore the animals. Especially the dogs. Maybe only the dogs.

 

I guess it’s genetic. My grandpa adores dogs so much that every day, before he leaves the house, he packs his pocket full of dog treats to give to any pooch he might come across. My grandma has a tiny lap dog that she refuses travel anywhere without, and sometimes makes sundaes for. My dad grew up with Saint Bernards, a whole bunch of them. My mom, heroically, rescued a stray kitten once from the side of the road in a rainstorm at night. But that was how we discovered our severe allergy to cats.

 

I sadly remember the day my dog died. A beautiful blonde lab, he was strong and boxy and I named him Buddy. He liked to rest his head on my lap, and never left my side, that is, except for the times he ran away, leaving me feeling ditched and sad, only to then appear at the front door that night, smiling and wagging a mud soaked tail in the air. And I really loved him. But one day he ran into the road and was struck by a car.

 

When I got home from school that day, my mom told me, and I cried, hyperventilating into a couch pillow as my older rubbed my back. I lay in bed for several hours. Then I got up, drove around town, not answering my phone, smoking an entire pack of cigarettes, unable to see the road for the water in my eyes.

 

In my grief, I ordered online a memorial stone. On the stone was engraved a verse of scripture, which I found the night before as I searched the web for answers about nonhuman salvation. I came upon on a site that pointed me to several passages of scripture that indicated they were saved, just like us.

 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind.”

Job 12:7-10 NIV

My parents’ Labrador, Lexi, has been moving through her Final Act for some time. She’s old, thirteen-years exactly. And her once honey kissed face has paled to a bone white. When she stands, it takes effort, her legs wobble under her weight, but she still wags her tail and tries to jump to please you, to let you know that she’s so happy you’ve stopped by. And so I try to soothe her back down to rest. I try to let her know it’s my job to make her happy now.

 

She’s been a good dog, excitable as a child, loyal as the moon is to the stars. She’s had three litters of puppies, given nearly thirty families small companions of their own and now it is almost time for us to give her back. Which is, of course, tragic.

 

At midnight the other night, over at my parents’ place, I went into the washroom where she was curled up on her cushion and sat back on my knees in front of her. I cradled her head in my hands while she cooed and squeezed her eyes in sapid contentment, and started saying all I could think to say. You’ve been a good girl. Such a good girl. 

 

And it feels so foolish, right? A bit wrong? The world is burning. Children are starving. Ebola is spreading. Racism is announcing to us, the most uninformed, that it never actually left. And the darkness feels a bit stronger these days, extracting real, material costs of of human life and dignity and protection. And Goodness! It’s just a dog! Just an animal. 

 

But what if she’s more than less? What if she is a glimpse of the Real Thing? I think about this a lot as I sit with her. I think about her friendship. Because when I look at her, I am reminded of a love that is always there, so full of joy, anxiously waiting with nose to the glass for the first sight of headlights on the driveway.

 

I think Martin Luther got it right when he said:

“The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.”

image credit

Insomniac Christians

3628914665_f562a6b722

 

If I had to select the most severe from my large collection of irrational fears, it would have to be sleeplessness. It would have to be my nightmare that my body will one day simply refuse sleep and the cycle will continue until, one day, I’ll wind up spending my days clutching myself, rocking back and forth in some remote hospital somewhere as a nurse hooks me up to an IV and pats me sweetly on the head.

 

Did I mention I struggle with anxiety?

 

Now, for the most part, I sleep really well. I can have an espresso at eleven at night and still be snoozing before twelve. Somehow, I’ve learned to become an effective, easy sleeper. But this wasn’t always the case.

 

When I was in the closet, aching with anxiety and depression, I would go a day or two without sleeping at all. I would try to get prescription sleeping pills, be they from friends or my parents’ friends, and I remembered, in my stupefied state wondering whether God was punishing me for something. I prayed to him nightly to calm the anxiety and in the absence of any response, my anxiety spiked.

 

The other night, in the first time in forever, I did not sleep at all. I laid awake for hours on end, fully aware of the state of my mind, measuring its’ level of sleepiness and then suddenly feeling nervous when I felt like I was about to fall, like it was a small window opportunity I had to mentally maneuver my way into. Then I thought about the conundrum of sleep: it so easy to attain yet impossible if you try to make it happen.

 

Around Three AM, knowing full well that I would have to be up in a few hours, I turned to that always trusting friend of the internet and started googling ways to battle insomnia. And there was this article, with this line:

 

“It is a precious good … but it is a good like none other, because to obtain it one must seemingly give up the imperative to have it.”

 

It read like poetry to my own life and yes, I was loopy and exhausted and desperate, but for some reason, the first thing to pop in my head was: Oh. Like being a Christian?

 

There’s something to this metaphor that I want to run with.

 

Because if God is sleep, then the Church has plenty of insomniacs.

 

For a long time I thought surrender meant simply surrendering to a code of conduct, to behavioral expectations and thought policing. As a kid I had a habit of, whenever I swore just in my head, immediately whispering out pleas for forgiveness. I grew up in youth group that laid down the principles of self-control, of staying pure, of finding favor of God by evangelizing, or being charitable, or not listening to secular music. We did skits on how to say No to friends who wanted to see a morally questionable movie. We structured religions within religions, narrowed the roads even further, and declared this way the only way to live in the love and joy of God.

 

Since joining the blogosphere almost two years ago, what I’ve witnessed through online testimony is that many had similar journeys, and many have walked away wounded and disillusioned. Something awful happened in their life and the clichés of a responding church left them grasping in the dark for a God, watching their hands move through him like smoke, like a mirage. Something didn’t add up and the more they searched their minds and used critical thinking, the more they felt their house slip off the sand into the sea.

 

And suddenly, they don’t feel so close to God. They wonder if they ever even were.

 

And maybe this is the reason Millenials are leaving the church. Every path we’ve tried to take to get to God has been nothing more than a momentary thrill and then a steep unexpected fall. The prayer doesn’t feel the same when we feel anxious or sad. The books feel foreign when we need the answer now. The isolation sets in and we end up just collapsing in it, waiting and waiting and waiting for some formula of our youth to be complete and for us to feel held again. When we don’t, we think we’ve lost Him. We think we have to win him back. We think we’ll spend all our days hustling after him, trying to get him to look our way, to give us the precious good of his Love. And maybe it’s because somewhere along the line, we understood that love of God is a fragile kind, a fickle easily frustrated kind.

 

This is the lie of religion. This is what keeps us up, groggy and grumpy, this is what extinguishes the light of our lives. We can’t let go of the control on our belovedness. We are trained toward hustle, toward earning, toward everything being success or failure on our own terms. And, surprise! We continually fall short, because the yardstick is a phantom. The struggle is a hamster wheel.

 

Experiencing that love is the challenge. It is a contradiction. It is like that scene in the Sorcerer’s Stone where Hermione tells Harry and Ron to relax and stop struggling against the vines wrapping around their bodies (a magical plant aptly named Devil’s Snare). The struggle perpetuates the struggle. Perfectionism perpetuates inadequacy. And the love of God is felt by those who know that it cannot be bottled up. It cannot be conquered. It cannot be won. It just is.

 

So, I give up on the imperative that I can reach God by my own means. I give up on all the ways I should on myself and accept that I am already accepted. There is no ladder to get me there. There is no step-by-step that will land me in God’s good graces. I am in it. I am here. I am lying in the hallowed ground of the love of God. And everyday, I will choose to see it. I will accept that I am here. I will breathe slower in gratitude.