Seasons of the Soul
A Canine Horarium: Praying the Hours with My Dog
As a Benedictine oblate, I am committed to living as a monk in the world. For me, this means living contemplatively, savoring experience rather than rushing through it to the next thing, focusing on simplicity rather than consumption, and cultivating spaciousness rather than filling my days with endless activities.
The natural world is my monk's cell, the place where I go to receive wisdom and guidance. My dogs have always been key sources of wisdom in my daily life; they have served as my spiritual directors inviting me into a much greater wisdom. Our current dog is named Winter. Her story is heartbreaking: She was abandoned on a farm and left to freeze to death. She survived but her puppies didn't. Welcoming her into our lives has brought me profound and unexpected gifts.
During the brief few months I have been without a canine companion in my life, I have often felt untethered. Something about the rhythms of a dog are grounding for me, especially as someone who is self-employed and often works several hours of the day at home.
In monastic tradition, praying the Hours is a fundamental part of moving through the day with presence and awareness. I offer you here the Horarium Winter leads me through.
Vigils: Night --The Hour of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Cherishing
My husband and I are asleep in our bed, Winter curled up in her own bed in the corner. Occasionally I awaken to remember a fragment of a dream and write it down. Sometimes in the dark quiet I hear Winter's legs twitching or muffled barking. I wonder if she is dreaming of chasing squirrels. Or I hear her and my husband breathing deeply and I cherish the presence of these two precious ones in my life.
Lauds: Dawn—The Hour of Awakening
I am not a morning person. This is the hour when I sometimes wish I could sleep in, but Winter will have none of that. She is ready to go out first thing and as the sun rises earlier and earlier as we near the summer solstice she calls me out of bed earlier as well. Some mornings I am gifted with a glimpse of the full moon setting or the glorious swathe of pink across the sky. In these moments I even find myself grateful to awaken with the dawn. I prepare my heart to receive the day ahead.
Terce: Morning—The Hour of Stretching
We return from our morning walk to a time of prayer, centering, and movement. This is my time to sink into myself and be present to the spirit moving through stillness. I have a regular morning practice of yoga, dance, and journaling to open up space within my body and soul and root myself in my Source before I move into the work of the day. Winter is a quiet witness to this practice. She lies on the couch holding the space with her presence.
Sext: Noon—The Hour of Recommitment
If I have a day of writing ahead, I usually begin around 9 or 10. Winter settles into the chair next to my desk and sleeps as I dive deep into the blank page before me, listening for the way the words want to unfurl before me. Midday calls me to recommit to this work, to eat and nourish myself for the rest of the day, and to give thanks for being able to offer my gifts in meaningful ways.
None: Midafternoon—The Hour of Play
I can get lost in hours of writing, forgetting to eat or move. Wise Winter begins to get restless in mid afternoon. She begins to paw at me, inviting me to walk and play. We take our long daily stroll up to a nearby park where she runs exuberantly and plays with other dogs who have similarly called their owners out into the world. Each time I find my heart broken wide open by her delight. Winter then demonstrates "rolling in the grass meditation" with no forethought to getting muddy or wet. Sometimes I follow suit and am rewarded by a deep sense of being re-energized by the earth.
Vespers: Evening—The Hour of Storytelling
As evening arrives and my husband returns home from his workday, we often go to the video store together to seek out stories to nourish us as the day moves toward its close. Winter is welcome into the shop and given dog cookies each time. We all return home and snuggle together on the couch and reconnect as a family and as a pack.
Compline: Night—The Hour of Mystery
As dark descends once again we are called back into releasing our hold on the day and what we had hoped to get done. Night invites us to embrace mystery. Winter goes out one last time before bed and we all curl up in our respective beds, welcoming in the world of dreams.
Suggestion for Practice:
If you must abide by an external schedule, consider taking a day or two of retreat when your only goal is to listen for when you need to sleep, eat, walk, and simply be. Consider bringing along a wise animal companion and let her or him be your spiritual director for these days. What happens when you submit to instinctual wisdom?
My favorite way to go on retreat is to rent a small cottage by the sea and bring my dog as my guide, along with some food to prepare simple meals when I get hungry. No meal schedules or anywhere to be at any particular time. I can just be present to the Hours as they unfold before me. Other necessities are my art supplies and journal for expression, and my yoga mat for meditation. What essentials do you need for a time of retreat?
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes and resources in contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of seven books on monastic spirituality and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press), Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings (SkyLight Paths), and Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (forthcoming 2013 from Ave Maria Press). Christine earned her Ph.D. in Christian Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and her work focuses on the intersection of the arts, contemplative spirituality and practice, and the wisdom of the seasons. Visit her website Abbey of the Arts.