One Sunday morning a number of years ago, I noticed that a reproduction of a familiar yet peculiar painting was propped up on a stand at the base of the reader’s lectern. The reading from the Jewish scriptures for the morning was the following familiar passage from Isaiah:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
The painting was one of many versions of “The Peaceable Kingdom” by 18th century Quaker artist Edward Hicks. Hicks’ artistic rendition of Isaiah’s vision is complete with rather flat representations of all the above animals plus three children, all hanging out on a grassy knoll with pop-eyed and glazed looks that have all the earmarks of drug inducement. The promise of the day’s readings was a future world of peace where natural enemies will no longer be enemies. Drugs are one way to produce peace, I suppose.
Our home has no animals in residence this month except a few of the two-legged human kind . . . and this is a big problem. Our four-legged daughter Bovina is 20 months old, which in both corgi years and human years makes her Generation Alpha. As I have frequently noted on this blog in the last year and a half, she is the focus and love of Jeanne’s and my lives. She is away for four weeks at dog camp, and it’s killing us. I have mentioned this more than once on my Facebook page in the past couple of weeks; a FB friend from England asked “Could you tell me what dog camp is? We don’t have that over here.” My reply was “I’ll bet you do; you just don’t call it dog camp.”
The official name of the kind of program in which Bovina is participating is “board and train”–the best way to describe it, I guess, is that we’ve sent Bovina away for a month to finishing school. She is a joyful 25-pound bundle of energy, loves everybody and everything (with a few exceptions, as I’ll explain), and we love her so much that I’m surprised she can stand it. But she has a few behaviors that have come to concern Jeanne and me a great deal.
Bovina is very extroverted and energetic–we love that. But certain events drive her into an over-the-top barking frenzy, things such as putting up the patio umbrellas in the back yard, turning on a ceiling fan, or light reflecting off a watch or computer onto the wall or ceiling. These events cause her to get so upset that we worry for her health. So we sought professional advice and help.
An hour-long home consult with an award-winning dog trainer who specializes in herding dog breeds (corgis originally were bred to herd cows) led the trainer to the conclusion that (1) this is adjustable and (2) Bovina’s issues are largely misdirected herding energies. “There’s a bit of OCD going on here,” the trainer said (a bit???), but she’s seen it and addressed it dozens of times with dogs having far more problematic issues than Bovina’s.
From among a few options, Jeanne and I chose to send Bovina for July (when we were going to be away for almost two weeks anyways) to the trainer’s facility for board and train finishing school. We have received several encouraging report cards and proof-of-life pictures from camp (although not nearly enough of them). Our sincere hope is that Bovina returns exactly the same as she was before camp, just a bit more peaceful when umbrellas go up and ceiling fans go on.
Which brings us back to the peaceable kingdom. This above passage from Isaiah was one of the readings a few years ago for a service I attended that focused on an international day of prayer for peace. I suspect that such days were established with something more than canine tranquility in mind. Another of that morning’s readings was from Isaiah 2 which invites us to go to “the mountain of the Lord” where, at some unspecified future time, the Lord will reign supreme and human beings will be acting quite differently than we do now.
Whatever Isaiah was seeing in this memorable vision, it sure isn’t the present. Although the writer of Ecclesiastes says there is “a time for war, and a time for peace,” the time for war has stretched for as long as human existence, and its end doesn’t appear imminent.
That’s probably why, in the religious tradition of my youth, we considered Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom either to be a description of heaven itself, or of God’s millennial kingdom of one thousand years which would occur after the second coming of Christ and the tribulation in which, after a lot of violence and judgment, the bad guys would be destroyed and only we good guys would remain. When we prayed “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we really meant “Please come back soon and rescue us from this totally crappy and ruined world in which we live.”
So what am I supposed to be praying for on the day of prayer for peace and every other day? What can I do to help bring about world peace? Put “Visualize Whirled Peas” and “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” bumper stickers on my car? Commit random acts of kindness? Sing “Give Peace a Chance”? Why not just spit into the wind and be done with it?
One possible place to begin is to remember that the Kingdom of God for which we pray, the Peaceable Kingdom, is here. “The Kingdom of God is within you.” The peaceable kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, begins in me, just as every one of Isaiah’s beasts is in me. I am a wolf, a lamb, a leopard, a goat, a calf, a lion, a cow, a bear, an ox, an adder, and an asp, as well as some other things Isaiah didn’t mention. There is undoubtedly a dachshund and a corgi in there as well. And, lest I forget, both a nursing child and a weaned child.
The key to establishing a peaceable kingdom within me is not to tame the scary beasts and put the fuzzy and cuddly ones in charge. Rather, it’s welcoming them all, allowing each their place, and not getting nervous when the lion and lamb decide to sit next to each other. To cite another John Lennon song, “Let It Be.” As I welcome and release each of the beasts, I commit myself, at least for today, to following the example of the psalmist in Psalm 131:
Truly I have set my soul in silence and peace. As a weaned child on its mother’s breast, so is my soul.