What My Dog Has Taught Me About Life and God (#1)

My dog inspires me (please do not tell her this, as she’s a little cocky as it is). She actually elicits a variety of reactions: amusement, irritation, frustration, laughter, anger and heart-melting affection. But inspiration is the one we’ll talk about today.

Casey is a Brittany, a medium-sized dog originally bred for bird hunting. As such, she possesses many of the characteristics one might expect in a bird dog: athleticism, high energy, strong sniffing instinct, alertness, enthusiasm, intelligence. She also exhibits a number of traits that seem to be in no way related to her calling, such as stubbornness, moments of mindless mania and excessive cuteness. And lots of shedding.

I took Casey to the off-leash dog park the other day. This is her favourite place on the planet. Let me describe for you what it looks like every single time we go there. First comes the whining in the car. Once we get about halfway to the dog park, she knows exactly where we’re going, and begins to articulate her feelings through a series of mournful wails and barks. Roughly translated into English, she says, “Hey! We’re going to the dog park! Right? I love the dog park! That’s where we’re going, right? To the dog park? Can we please go to the dog park? I love it there! Are we there yet? You’re not going somewhere else, are you? Cuz I love the dog park! Are we there yet? We’re not there yet! It’s coming up—do you remember the way? Straight ahead, and it’s on the right; I can smell it! Don’t turn left! I LOVE the dog park! There are dogs there! And a park! Dog park dog park dog park!” (etc.)

Upon arrival we wrestle. Imagine a kite in a windstorm. Imagine that the kite is a dog and the string is a leash and that the windstorm begins in the back of my parked car and continues until such time as I manage to land her inside the park’s gate.

Our dog park has a cleverly engineered dual gate system that allows one to unleash one’s animal inside the first gate, which is itself fully enclosed by a fence. This is brilliant, and effectively protects the dog park’s innocent patrons from Casey’s inevitable insanity upon arrival. I unclip her lead and she bolts for the next gate, nose pressed to the ground, and throws herself at it paws-first. The gate miraculously holds, and I take a moment to recompose myself before initiating the next phase: the launch.

I take a few moments to scan the area; ideally it is deserted. This ensures that my dog will not bowl over any children, jump up on any old people, or blindly run over any smaller dogs. (Yes, these things have all happened. I beg that you do not judge me. I am a good dog owner. But 5 years in with this particular dog—who has calmed down, mind you—and I remain helpless in the face of her we’re-finally-here-I-get-to-run-now insanity.) Once a safe perimeter has been established, I unhook the gate. (It is not necessary that I actually open it; her head does that.)

She shoots out of that chain link enclosure like a torpedo from  submarine. Her initial trajectory takes her about 100 metres straight into the park, before slowing slightly, looping around, and accelerating back towards her original launchpoint. Once there she sprints from exciting object (another dog, a human, a bush to sniff, etc.) to exciting object, rarely making any significant contact—strictly sniff and run. And then she’s off, racing away again at maximum speed in whatever direction compels her. In spite of my best efforts, there is usually someone around to witness all of this, and they inevitably react, depending on their temperament, with some version of “Wow!” By way of response, I typically shrug, smile and quote Bruce Springsteen. “She was born to run.”

The Boss is right (of course), and she demonstrates this fact for the rest of our time at the park. She runs and runs (and sniffs) and runs and runs (and sniffs; she was also born to sniff, but I doubt that Springsteen will write a song about that) and runs. She runs through the long grass especially, because that’s where she finds birds to flush in the summer. It’s winter now, and there are very few birds, but just the possibility is enough.

This is where Casey inspires me. I walk, and she runs, and watching her I see pure joy. She’s a pretty happy dog most of the time, but here, in her element, she reaches a whole other level of bliss. I am reminded of the words attributed to Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”*

Can a dog worship God? In Isaiah 55, the mountains and hills burst into song, and the trees of the field clap their hands. As He enters Jerusalem, Jesus tells the Pharisees that even if He silenced His disciples, “the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) There is clearly some metaphor in play with these examples, but I think also something more than that; scripture taken as a whole (including Romans 1 and Psalms 19 & 148) suggests that all of creation attests to the glory of God. A mountain, a sunset, a starry night sky—all of these, just by virtue of their magnificence, honour their creator. A dog, then, doing what it was meant to do with joyful abandon, does likewise.

Humans, made in His image, are unique amongst creation in their ability to take it to the next level. Neither a mountain nor a dog chooses to glorify God, I don’t think. They just do what they  were made to do. We alone have the capacity to look up, and say, “Hey, maybe there’s more here than meets the eye. Look at that majestic mountain, and that crazy-fast dog. Someone made that. Wow. God!” And then, to choose to worship Him; or not. Given this singular capacity—the ability to (somewhat) comprehend, and then to chose—human worship is both a precious gift (to ourselves, and remarkably, to God Himself) and a privilege. And greater is the tragedy when we neglect, or worse, eschew it.

And, so back to my ridiculous dog. I see her do what she was born to do with such unfettered joy and I am inspired to do likewise. Some of the things I was born to do are the same as the things you were born to do; those things that we have in common as human beings made in the image of God. And some of them are part of the distinct set of passions and abilities that God wove together into the unique creation that is me (I’m doing one of those things right now, writing this).

I want to be more like Casey, launching myself into everything that I am meant to be with unbridled enthusiasm, and revelling in the joy of it. And then, because I can, taking it to that next level, and choosing to acknowledge and honour the One who makes it possible. Worship.

 

 

*“Surprisingly, this line was actually written by Colin Welland as part of his script for the film Chariots of Fire, but is widely misrepresented as having been said by Eric Liddell in real life.” http://www.ericliddell.org/ericliddell/quotations