One of the ways I understand Saints are as those people who have been honored for embracing their flowering, for allowing themselves to bud and blossom and burst forth fully into the world.
These last few months, I have been contemplating the idea of what it would mean to extend my image of the Communion of Saints to include not only the ones I love who have gone before me, but other members of creation as well. Animals don’t refuse their own flowering, they are simply what God created them to be. This image has arisen for me especially in response to our sudden loss of Duke in August who was a very special creature in our life. It used to be that special connections to animals were signs of holiness. We in large part have lost the sense of the sacred bond that crosses over species and reaches beyond our perceived boundaries. We desperately need to reclaim a holistic understanding of the holy presence in all of creation.
So today, on this holy feast of All Saint’s Day which is also the Celtic feast of Samhain, a time when the borders between this world and the next are especially thin, I celebrate again the gift Duke was in our life and the bond I shared with him. We found Duke at an animal shelter when he was a year old. But really he found us. We had him for nine blessed years and he claimed a place for himself in our “pack” so quickly and easily. He was Baby Bear and we were Mama and Papa Bears. Adorable I know. But it was much more than the sweet sentimentality of pets that connected us.
Duke was a profound teacher and a companion. He lived so gently in the world despite his size. He witnessed to me the power of living into your natural rhythms, the gifts of a good long nap, the joys of the body stretching and asking for what it needs, the exuberance of being reunited together after time apart. I miss his unabashed joy at seeing me. I miss his faithful presence by my side as I work and write. I miss his solid body that he loved to press against me, as if to reassure himself I was really here. I miss his heavy sighs always so perfectly timed that my husband and I were convinced he understood every word we said.
He went away with me for a week of silent retreat last January and in that sacred space he kept vigil. There I heard the sound of my name called and sung, first as a whisper and then as a roar. Duke tended to my own unfolding in ways I can’t explain.
Most of all, I miss his gift of otherness and the wondering he opened within me. So faithful and steadfast, I wonder how he understood our differences in species and why he preferred our company over other dogs. I wonder if he puzzled over our actions and demands. I wonder what it was he dreamed of. I deeply miss his daily animal companionship that was a constant reminder to me of the vastness and otherness of God’s presence in the world. He was truly an icon of holy mystery, I never tired of gazing on him. What would the world be like if more of us submitted ourselves to the wisdom of creatures?
Now we are connected by a slender thread between worlds, a thread I am more deeply aware of among trees and other wild places. In those sacred last moments of his life when his breathing stopped, his sweet body lying there on the hearth in our arms, he cracked open yet another door within me. I have no words for it, only a sense of longing that lures me far beyond myself into the great community of those who commit fully to their own flowering.
-Christine Valters Paintner
P.S. To read other posts participating in this grid blog, please go here.
This is one of the most beautiful eulogies I’ve ever heard. Thank you for this gift of wisdom and love and beauty.
Hi Caroline and welcome.
Thanks Songbird, I feared the time I would lose him for a long time before it actually happened. Then it was all so sudden and it has been very painful. Yet writing about it helps, genuinely feeling a connection to him still helps, hearing from other dog lovers helps too. Blessings to you and Molly.
I’ve been trying to read this off and on all day, but I kept scrolling back to Duke’s face before I finished and having to stop. I have never lost a dog, but I know how much I fear that inevitable parting. Thank you for writing about him, about your connection and his role in your life.
These pictures made my day. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Mary Beth, I do think you have to have had the experience to really appreciate the connections.
Hi Wendy, yes I would also include those holy trees and flowers! I look forward to reading your post a bit later when I get some work done (yes, I am procrastinating right now :-) ) but I deeply appreciate what you have shared here about paganism. I keep joking to my husband that I am part neo-pagan. It isn’t the spells and such that appeal so much as the profound connection to the earth, the deep honoring of the earth’s cycles and seasons. I am reading a lot of Celtic Christianity these days and finding a wonderful merging there, of course heavily influenced by pagan roots as many Christian feasts are.
This was so moving Christine. I am also tending more and more to believe animals part of the “communion of saints”, and plants as well. All of God’s creation He has given us is sacred and precious. On my blog I was just posting on the real door that true (not occult) paganism is, and this is deeply part of it.
The deeper type pagan rituals such as vision quests and totems etc, *if done with the right attitude*, can reflect this–accepting not only which words or which people God is trying to teach you through in your life but also which animals or parts of creation God is trying to reach and teach you through— and embracing that. Relationships, even with our Saviour and Our God, they are personal. So just like a parent does, I feel He instructs us, His children, in personal tangible ways like this…
Oh, this is lovely. I know just what you mean…I have 2 dogs and while one is a sweetie, the other looks into my eyes so meaningfully and lovingly, I feel a real spiritual bond with him.
Hi Amy and welcome! Thanks for your lovely comment, I was hoping to surprise a couple of people! :-) (although likely not my regular readers)
Cathleen, I love that your dog is called Rabbi. I have been thinking when we get another dog down the road I want to name him or her Abbot or Abbess (Abbey for short), because I have been calling our home The Abbey (a post on that soon). My husband and I both agreed that a dog would be the fitting spiritual guide of the household.
Blessings this holy day to you both, Christine
Blessed be all the saints – without regard for fur or skin, wings or legs, age or creed. And blessed be those who are presently bringing the holy and sacred to all today ~ including our dog whom I affectionately call “Rabbi Hershel” (his other name is Hershey) who is accompanying me during this transition.
With gratitude, Cathleen
What a sweet testiment to your pet. I was expecting to read about people on the grid blog and was surprised and warmed by your memories and the spiritual nature of your relationship with Duke.
Thanks for sharing.