17 November, Sunday – On Dogs

17 November

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Malachi 3:19-20

The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble. The day that is coming is going to burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, leaving them neither root nor stalk. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.

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2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

You know how you are supposed to imitate us: now we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we ever have our meals at anyone’s table without paying for them; no, we worked night and day, slaving and straining, so as not to be a burden on any of you. This was not because we had no right to be, but in order to make ourselves an example for you to follow.

We gave you a rule when we were with you: do not let anyone have any food if he refuses to do any work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in idleness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone else’s. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.

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Luke 21:5-19

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’

‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.

‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

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“All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down”

I started fostering a couple of dogs in the last 2 months. One of them is a retired service dog, an 8-yr old Golden Retriever with melancholic eyes. His handler passed away last Christmas. People say dogs get over things quickly. I find that to be untrue – the golden is still grieving, as far as I can tell. The other is a 12-yr old Cocker Spaniel, who, despite her small stature, has figured out the secret to aging with joy and grace. She has more spunk than I do on a good day. Running after the both of them, and my own hyperactive Labradoodle has taken up the lion’s share of my time.

When I first agreed to this, I probably didn’t think it through. I figured I was doing someone a favour, that I would have more help and that things would work themselves out. I assumed (wrongly!) that they would be like my own Labradoodle – biddable, responsive and open to bribes. I’ve since learned that dogs, like people, have their own personalities and, like people, will do as they please. What applies to one breed does not work for another. I’ve also discovered things about myself in the process. I am a stickler for the invisible, unspoken math behind the perceived rights and wrongs done to me. I went into this thinking I was doing someone a favour, but when that favour became burdensome (as any form of caregiving often does), I found myself doing intricate mental calculations around what I was being owed, who owed me and how I was going to be justified. I can tell you now that as clever as they are, dogs can’t do math. And obsessing over this kind of sorry mental arithmetic anyway, is a misery-inducing exercise. Yes, the reading from Thessalonians assures us that “those who are unwilling to work, neither should that one eat”. But seriously, who is going to enforce this in a time frame that is satisfactory to me?

On good days, when the dogs are being cooperative, I’ve found myself wondering at the road that has led me here and how much my heart has expanded. I didn’t even like dogs 6 years ago. I was terrified of them. I thought they smelled. How’d I end up with three? On bad days, when they’ve trashed the lawn, messed up the house and trekked mud onto the upholstery, I’ve found myself asking God what the bigger picture is. What’s the point to all this? And every now and again, if I am not so preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself, God’s quiet voice reminds me that “All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down”. Nothing lasts forever – one day this will pass, and what will I feel then? Emptiness? Sorrow? Will I miss their capacity for joy and their unconditional devotion? Might it not be a better idea to embrace it all now, to drink my fill of their spontaneity, their joy and their ability to find happiness in chaos? Dogs and God have one thing in common – they only do Love. It is people that do math.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray for the patience, love and fortitude to be a good steward to the dogs that have been placed in my care. May God and the good St Francis help me to be a good caregiver to them.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the angels that God sends to help me climb out of my sorry pit of despair. I give thanks for His faithfulness, even when I am being faithless, self-pitying and weak.

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