So many of you seem to enjoy this spiritual journal whenever I use Abby, our Anglican Border Collie, as an example of what to do or not to do. This week, I want to share a conversation we had. (Yes, I speak “Border Collie.” It is easier than 1st century Aramaic. No, I am not a Collie “whisperer.” Border Collies only shout; they do not whisper!)
So, Abby was complaining about the recent upheaval in her life. Her mommy got so sick and had to go to the people vet and almost didn’t come home. And when she did, she was given too much pain stuff and that stuff hurt her, and Abby was sad and scared. Then the move to the new rectory. All these strangers coming into her yard, packing her stuff, using her boxes and her tape, moving them from her house to the new house and breathing her air. (We’re slightly obsessive: you think!) Now her people-pack are in this new field and house with all these new strange smells to learn with new deer and bunnies and birds to have to chase and organize just when she was getting the rest of the old herd in line. Now her mommy is better but not completely, so Abby still must sleep on the bed and make sure mommy is safe.
I tried to explain to her that Jesus (her redeemer as much as mine) taught us to put our faith in Him and not in the stuff of this life. Some of that “stuff” are not just physical possessions. His “kingdom” (actually the term is “kingship” – it’s a 1st century Aramaic word!) is “not of this world.” We’re only here as travelers, and only for a short time. We pass our days guided by our loving Father who sent His Son to restore us, to divinize us, to redeem us. Nothing much here is permanent: not our jobs, our aspirations, our inspirations, our affiliations. We don’t even get to keep our same bodies: they grow and develop and then decline. (Just try jumping up the adjacent wall with Abby every time she now needs to go out and “take care of business.”)
Someday this beloved creature of God will die, as will I, as will we all. We leave this place with its hurt and pain, its uncertainties and cares, its loves and hopes and dreams. Hopefully, we have lived such lives that we return to the loving One who breathed life into us when the journey began, who sent the second “person” within God’s triune existence to live for us, die for us and rise to overcome death for us. Our true “home” is not here. Nothing “here” is changeless.
So, like it or not, nothing is permanent. Change is not always good or easy, but change always happens. In this fragile existence we call “life,” sickness, uncertainty, stress, confusion, anger, unfairness and the whole gamut of human states of being will and must occur. So, hopefully, must love, peace, patience, courage and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit. But it happens in such a short time. So stop barking Abby! This time of change will pass … until the next changes occur. And God will guide us through them as well.
What a whirlwind these months have been! From the varied and frustrating trips to so many M.D.’s trying to ascertain why JoAnne was “breaking down,” through the intensity of the parish Lenten program (which is a great joy but always intellectually demanding to put together), through the end of the Confirmation program with this fantastic fearsome foursome with whom I met and taught over the months, through all the planning and prep and execution of Holy Week liturgies, through JoAnne’s surgery, missteps through recovery and now finally the move from rectory A to rectory B (with all the prep and stress that comes with that).
So what is God teaching me through all this chaos? I who love to be in control and have things planned out weeks in advance must now react from moment to moment to answer a need. My mind still thinks I am 25; my body scoffs at this! I must spend time consoling Abby who doesn’t react to “change” in her life very well at all and thus proving that her breed of Border Collies – stemming from the England/Scotland border – are full blooded Anglicans who react with a howling “…but we never did it this way before!”
I’ve learned that one can lose a loved one in the blink of an eye despite all the best intentions to take away pain. I am learning how frail we all are and how time forgives us not. I find that I don’t miss TV or talk radio in the least, and I used to be an avid political and sports junkie. I am learning how to be gracious in receiving the generosity of others, and admitting to self: “Self, you cannot do this alone.” It may not take a village, but it certainly takes a parish. And of course I have re-learned that waiting around on uncomfortable chairs while your beloved does P.T. makes you feel as useless as a headache.
I have been taught these months that God is in control, not me. And the Lord will continue to teach me over and over and over until I get it.
Last week my beloved canine companion reminded me of a deeply personal and theological truth even though, in her pain, she hardly intended to do so. Do you remember the nasty two pronged thunder/lightning storm that passed through here last week? Well the storm hit, and I sadly observed this Border collie (usually decisive and “poetry in motion”) utterly frozen in indecision. Since JoAnne’s surgery, Abby has been hyper vigilant in protecting her “mommy.” She sleeps or just rests on the bed keeping JoAnne under her watchful protection. However, like most dogs, and in her case, intensely so, she is terrified of thunder. There is a place in the house (on the bed in another room in the dark) where she rides out such storms as she shivers, quakes and cries. But now the conundrum: Abby was caught between her self-imposed duty to protect her “sheep” while wanting to flee in fear. Her eyes expressed both terror and confusion, and as a result she was frozen in the hallway – suspended between duty and terror.
Now Abby is but a dog, and she can be endearing and annoying, tragic and triumphant – almost as much as we humans. But she is NOT one of us. Unlike all other creatures, only we humans are described in sacred scripture as having been created “in the image of God.” We baptized Christians are also defined by St. Paul as “the Body of Christ” – His presence in the world. We have a purpose in this world, and our lives are not to be defined merely by instinct or desire.
And yet, as I watched poor Abby and tried to comfort her amidst the cracks of “heavenly noise,” I was sadly reminded that we can fall into that same trap. We can be caught between what we ought to do and what we want to do. We can allow fear to freeze us into inaction. People do this. I’ve seen parishes do this, and I pray we never slide into that kind of inertia.
Being open to the Spirit means sometimes returning to our responsibilities in spite of fear. It means being where we may not wish to be doing what we do not wish to do. The risen Jesus told Peter that the day would come where he would be led where he would never wish to go! And Jesus may at times direct us, His church, in the same way. Fear may be real, but it is never the solution.