Here in mid-August I have been left behind by my nearby and family and friends who are off adventuring, and have been entrusted with the care of Linus, my 11 year old grand-dog. I learned to love dogs in the early years of my marriage, but those dogs were all beautifully long, leggy and adventurous, bred for herding and cavorting and chasing sticks. Linus is none of those things. Compact, deliberate, loyal, sedentary, he is my companion of body and Spirit in these days when I continue to heal in solitude.
It has taken me a lifetime to learn that the Holy One inhabits “all creature great and small,” and I have to continue to stretch to learn what lessons I receive when I am in the company of non-verbal four-footed beasts. One of my best teachers has been my former colleague Rev. Dr. Sam Hamilton-Poore in his winsome book, Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation (Upper Room Books, 2008). Under his tutelage, I am learning to pay greater attention to the created world–its gift, its beauty, its complexity and its vulnerability. Sam has collected prayers, poetry, Scripture and the work of writers who care for the earth into a daily prayer book through the hours of the day, attending in each reading to a different aspect of the call of created humans to love and serve God’s wider creation.
So how do I care for and learn from Linus, this creature sent from God to be my companion and responsibility?
I can love him as part of God’s creation. Sam refers to these words from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov:
“Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.”
The face, figure and aspect of Linus is mysterious and curious to me. Yet he brings the presence of a dog who is well loved and cared for, accepted for who he is; he has no need to make demands or suggestions. He is quintessentially himself. And I love him.
Caring for Linus makes me aware of the stewardship we as humans are given to care for all the living things in creation. Albert Schweitzer (quoted in Hamilton-Poore) says:
“Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry…Make us ourselves to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.”
It is because of the care of Linus and the dogs we have cared for over many years, that I now see my responsibility to donate to the the SPCA, my commitment that animals at risk may be cared for.
It might be most important to note the way that Linus makes me laugh. Leonardo Boff, quoted in Hamilton-Poore, speaks to the joy of animals in the world:
“Above all, we should see creation as the expression of God’s joy, as the dance of God’s love, as the mirror of both God and all created things. In this sense every creature is a messenger of God, and God’s representative as well as sacrament. Everyone is worthy and to be accepted and listened to as such.”
Linus is a source of laughter for me in these days of care-giving–from his distinctive face, to his need to sit on my feet with his back to me, to digging up an ancient dog toy from the recesses of the yard, to his utter trust in me, that my plans for him are good, not evil. He is a joyful reminder of the infinite imagination and variety of God the Creator! I am grateful and filled with laughter. Thanks be to God!