This past Sunday I presided at the Blessing of the Animals for the first time. Our little church up the hill was as full as I’ve seen it with humans and their animal companions. We had four dogs, a cat, and a frog. And a lot of barking, laughter, and pauses to regather ourselves.
I’ve never been a big dog person. I mean, I like them, but I’ve never really understood them, not like cats. When I was growing up, we had the most perfect cat you could imagine. I picked him out from a litter a friend’s cat had born, a sweet little ginger boy. On the drive home, he was so scared by the movement of the car that he burrowed into the seat at the small of my back, and from then on we were bonded. The first year we had him, he slept draped around the top of my head.
When I was fourteen, I left home for boarding school, and Redd had to stay behind. He lived another fourteen years with my mom, three times as long as he lived with me. And yet, every time I came to visit, he slept curled into my side, just like when he was a kitten. That cat taught me so much about unconditional love. Not even parents can match the love of a bonded animal.
After this past Sunday, though, I’m a dog convert. A woman who was visiting from out of town brought her two-year-old spaniel, named Briney. She lifted him up to say hello to me, and immediately his tongue connected with my cheek. Normally I’m not one for dog kisses, but this time something shifted. I felt utter delight as I pet his soft fur and he licked all over my face. It was a total God experience: soft, joyful, absolutely present and incarnate.
So much of my theology and spirituality centers on mercy, healing, wholeness, and redemption. It’s right that it should, particularly given the ever-increasing darkness of the world in which we live. And yet, there was something in Briney’s sloppy kisses that cut right through the heaviness I often recognize in my heart and in the world around me. There is still delight, still joy, still utter abandonment to the moment.
I’m reminded of a line from Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark: “Joy doesn’t betray, but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” (p. 24)
There is so much to mourn, to worry over, to fear. But still, the world remains stubbornly beautiful. There are moments when the softest little dog licks your face, and suddenly you’re giggling like a kid, dissolved into the joy of being right where you are. That’s mercy, too.
8 Replies to “puppy love”
Thank you so much for sharing this. This is one of my favorite services in the year. My mother is 95 and unable to attend church in person any longer. I read this to her today and she beamed through the whole reading. We always took our animals , dogs , cats, and even my brother’s lizards , as we were growing up. It brought back so many wonderful memories for us to share. You never know where your words will land when they are released but today know they landed and brought light and joy .
Merri, I am so happy to hear that this post brought your mom joy. Thank you for letting me know that!
Oh Brother Aidan! What a beautiful reflection. We have always had dogs. They have taught me, more than any spiritual director, how to live in the moment. To live with a dog is to experience life in all it’s beauty, inquisitiveness and adventure. I see this is my little buddy Coco. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with your followers.
Thank you, Carolyn! Yes, animals know how to be just exactly themselves without all the worry. We can learn a lot from their unselfconsciousness.
As always, I enjoyed your story and, like you, feel like animals bring us closer to God. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for reading, Sonia!
Dear Brother, Thank you for this reflection. I especially appreciated how you pointed out the the love of an animal is unique. When I lost my Blesséd Bassett Hound, Esther, I was bereft in a manner that I’ve never experienced. Now I have the half sister to Esther, Sister Rose, and I have an 8 month old basset puppy, Mary Agnes. Every love is different and each has the possibility exceed all expectations.
Michael, you say it so well! Yes, every love is different. There’s nothing like the love of an animal companion, and each of those is also different.