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The Call to Obedience (a love note from your online Abbess)

Dearest dancing monks,

Just before Christmas our local dog rescue group was looking for two-week foster homes to help give them a bit more space while the dog pounds close and a rush of new dogs came into their kennels. We have been longing for a dog again, so relished the opportunity to help the shelter out while also soaking in some canine love. We brought home Ginger Nut, an older terrier, sweet and snuggly as can be. She was a perfect companion over the Christmas season. But, much to my surprise, over that time with her we actually discerned this isn’t the right season for us to have a dog in our lives. With still much travel ahead, wonderful groups to be present with, and our apartment not being very well set up to take a dog out especially for middle of the night needs, we realized having a dog was not a wise choice right now.

I was actually quite heartbroken to come to this realization, especially since Ginger had worked her way into my heart. I sent the rescue folks some much better and more flattering photos of her to post in the hopes of finding her a perfect forever home. Someone saw those photos posted on Facebook who knew to whom she belonged! With all my prayers for her to find a loving place to land, what happened was even better than I had imagined. She was reunited with her guardians and went home again (and it turns out her name is Benji and she is 13, although she will always be Ginger to me).

I felt truly overjoyed by this turn of events and grateful that I had honored the truth of my own discernment, as much as I didn’t want it to be true. Because Ginger was never meant to be ours, she was a passing guest along the way to whom we could offer some hospitality. And in return she broke my heart open in new ways, she reminded me just how much love I have to offer. The word “Visitation” keeps rising up for me when I consider her presence with us during this most holy of seasons. She came, offered her blessing, and then returned home again.

I still feel a bit stunned by it all and how much grace worked through this situation. This isn’t the first time in the last few months where I have had an experience like this. But this is what happens when we start to pay attention to our lives and do the hard work of listening and responding. In the Benedictine tradition, one of the central vows is obedience. On one level it means obedience to an Abbot or Abbess, but on a deeper level it means to follow the call of your heart, no matter how demanding or difficult. I am so grateful for friends who supported my tender heart in the couple of days when I had to let go and before I knew how things would unfold. Having a community of support, who can help us honor our discernment, who know us well enough to be able to see if the call rings true to what they know of us, is so vital on this way.

All the dogs I have had the privilege of caring for, whether two weeks or nine years, have been anam caras for me, soul friends in the Irish language. Ginger reminded me of my own deep need to make this an even more intentional part of my life. At some point again, we will be able to welcome in another canine companion. For now, I am being called to continue rooting into this wonderful place we live and make time to be out in the beauty of the landscape and let creation stir my heart to new awareness. My word for the year, dwell, continues to offer new invitations.

Have there been any Visitations in your own life? What is the call asking that you follow no matter how challenging? How might you practice obedience in response?

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo right: Ginger of the soulful eyes

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