Every day I try to walk my two dogs, Bailey and Maxine, for a few blocks in our neighborhood. As I have done this for a while now, I have come to realize that there are some spiritual truths that can be learned from their doggie actions. Here I would like to mention a few:
1. “Follow your nose” or, in other words, “Follow your joy”. The olfactory sense of dogs far surpasses that of humans. Dogs love to smell things and Bailey and Maxine are no exception to this. They will stop at every bush, tree, blade of grass and scent of other dogs all along our route. They will stop, bury in their nose and inhale to a full contentment (tails wagging full force) and if I am pulling on them to continue our walk they will lock down until they have had enough. Much more so than humans, dogs let their noses lead them and they trust in the guidance of their olfactory sense. In the spiritual life it is helpful for us to mark and take note of our experiences of joy. True joy (distinct from happiness which is fleeting by nature) is that deep contentment of soul which cannot be contrived nor manipulated. It can even be present in times of difficulty and struggle. Joy witnesses to the presence of God and wherever God is, there will be found fulfillment. Follow your nose. Trust the guidance of your sense of joy.
2. “Thank God for the yanked leash” or, in other words, “There but for God’s grace go I”. The other day I was walking Bailey when up ahead of us along the sidewalk I noticed a large cat crouched against a short wall with eyes pinned on my dog. Bailey – great hunter that he is – was oblivious. The dog had no clue that this cat was ahead, that it was a cat that, by all looks, meant business and was not going to be chased off by any dog! This feline was going to stand its ground! I yanked on Bailey’s leash and made a wide berth around the cat. Bailey was surprised by the yank and only after we had passed the cat did he notice the feline glaring at him and obstructing our way. Bailey did not see the cat but I did. Isn’t it so true in life that we can be heading down the road thinking we know it all and that we are in control; when in fact we are completely oblivious and do not see what awaits us ahead nor what we are getting ourselves into. But God sees … and sometimes He yanks the leash! Thank God! We may grumble at first and be frustrated with the perceived inconvenience at the moment but in hindsight we get the full picture. There but for God’s grace … thank God for the yanked leash!
3. “Now. Here.” Dogs have no sense of time, at least they don’t mark time as we humans do. Nor do they seem real concerned about places beyond their immediate location. For dogs all that matters is now and here. Pretty simple. When Moses asked for the name of God the Lord responded with, “I am who am.” God is just as present now as He is at any other time. God is just as present here as He is anywhere else. And, in the end, this is all that really matters. God is present; we are the ones who, more often than not, are absent. Now and here – two good spiritual commands.
4. “Wag your tail at other dogs.” Bailey is good at this. Maxine … well, she is still working at it. The wagged tail is the sign of friendship and respect – the other dog is accepted and welcomed. The courage to welcome, to show hospitality to, and to respect the other person (even if he or she is different) is an important spiritual discipline which (more than the multiplication of words) witnesses to the true reality of ones spiritual life. My experience has taught me that the ability to welcome the other who is without grows as the fear within is lessened. We read in 1 John, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” Truth be told, Bailey finds it natural to wag his tail because he has been loved since he was a pup. I have loved him. Maxine was rescued from a pound and, I think, not loved so much until now … and it is taking time. But she is making progress. We walked by two dogs today and she did not even growl once! I gave her a big hug afterwards! Wag your tail … and if it is hard to, remember that you are loved by God with a perfect love.