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.”