31043_640166264524_6417213_nIn 2010, I adopted a two-year-old German Shepherd, and I named him Benedict. There was a man of German descent on Peter’s pontifical seat, and I was in seminary: it all seemed very clever. As usual, the Holy Spirit took the joke a step further — into truth.

When we go to a cabin in the mountains, I take Ben out for his morning jaunt in the pasture, and I enjoy a moment of quiet in the dull but promising morning light while he runs and sniffs and terrifies the local ponies. The last time I took him, he ran around a bit and pranced and sniffed, and then he did something that he’d never done before.

 

He sat himself down right next to me, where I was standing in the field — not facing me, but next to me — as if we were companions contemplating the expanse together.

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I think that’s exactly what Ben was trying to tell me by the peculiar positioning of his body that morning: “I’m with you; we’re focused the same direction and we’re keeping each other’s company.” Even without the power of communication by tongue (except through slobber), I understood his message completely.

His simple, momentary action struck me as a powerful symbol of Anglican liturgy. The point of all the crossing and bowing and kneeling and turning is to communicate a deep truth and connection, using the whole of our selves, body and soul, to respond to the invitation that God makes to each of us. When we turn our bodies to the East to recite the Creed together, we are aligning our spiritual direction as one corporate body just as our individual bodies face the same direction. The old adage rings true — actions speak louder than words. The actions we take with our bodies, how we use our physical selves to communicate with others, speaks ever more powerfully in a world saturated with words.

One of my favorite stories about Benedict comes from the first summer after I adopted him. He stayed with a friend of mine for a few weeks when I was living somewhere that didn’t allow pets. My friend owns a big, slobbery chocolate lab named Noah, and the two canines got along famously. One night, all three of them asleep in the master bedroom, Noah heard a threatening noise and started barking from his bed. Benedict reportedly dashed to the window and poked his nose through the curtains and, having not ascertained the cause of the alarm, jumped onto my friend’s bed and stood across her body, placing himself between her and the bedroom door.

Isn’t this what Jesus did? God came to earth as a human being, in a human body. And, to communicate his love most powerfully, he submitted his own body to death, even the shameful death of a cross (Rom. 5:8; Phil. 2:8).

The featured image was supplied by the author.

About The Author

The Rev. Emily Hylden serves as vicar of St. Augustines’s Oak Cliff in Dallas.

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Thanks for some wonderful images, Emily. I think Ben knew exactly what he was doing, in each case, It is contemplating my own relationship with my dog that helped me to find a way to speak of the real presence of our Lord in a grammar that makes sense to me of what we know about material life. Seems like Ben is a person to you. A person who happens to bs canine. What an extraordinary mystery it is that such deep bonds of affection and possibility of communion arise from our sociality and shared history with other creatures! What… Read more »

You had me at “I adopted a two-year-old German Shepherd…”

The magazine “The Wittenburg Door” (later just “The Door”) had a regular feature called “Dogs who know the Lord.” Maybe we should also have such a feature?

I cannot help but make reference to Roman 8:19 (using J.B. Phillips translation), “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.”

Dogs in general, and Ben particularly, get this.