Image by Rebecca K Photography
By Morris DuBose, Trinity United Methodist Church
A joke I know from my childhood takes a look at the idea that it doesn’t take much tweaking to get from dog to God. And maybe that joke was on to something.
People are often looking for a way to understand God. To say that it isn’t easy would be the grossest of understatements. The conflicting imagery, fears, and opinions, from every different quarter, make it very difficult to put your faith in any clear idea of God. There are a lot of people who treat God as some Genie, paying the most attention to God during times of struggle and need. Offering earnest prayers to their magical friend when the going gets tough. When, however, if that thing is acquired or that crisis passes or becomes a permanent part of life, the people in this category find it challenging to maintain the same enthusiastic participation in their dialogue with God.
Other people reflect on God as similar to the creator figure in a lesser-known Tolkien work, “The Silmarillion,” wherein all things are created, an order is established, and a series of rules that govern the universe are set down by an indifferent being who, upon completion disappears off for, what I imagine, is a divine vacation.
At the end of the day, I don’t know if, on this side of eternity I will know which of the two is closer to fact. But I have found an analogy far from either and closer to the joke of my childhood. Not that God is my pet, for as Aslan asserted, “I am not a tame lion.” And while it seems true that I cannot just command God here and there, there is a closeness reminiscent of a beloved dog. As in the relationship we develop with a beloved pet, in our times of celebration, they dance around our rooms with us, reveling in our joy, and seemingly deeply connected to our emotional outpouring. When we are sick, emotionally in tune pets wait at our side or cuddle up to us as a warm body. In our moments of emotional turmoil, at the ends of relationships, at the losses of jobs, at the failures and frustrations in our lives, the love of our dogs creates a space for us to nurture, care and reflect beyond ourselves in that moment. And to continue to feel love, appreciation, and enthusiasm for who we are, beyond any evidence to the contrary. Our dogs even go so far as to occasionally look into our souls and force us to reflect on the decisions that we’ve made that do not resemble our best selves.
So while I don’t seek to assert that God is in fact a pet that we manage, if we understand our relationship to God more like the way that we understand our relationship to our dog, perhaps we will better appreciate God’s contribution in both our times of joy and our times of sorrow, but also our times of silence and shame, and the seemingly boring moments that can distract us the most. We can be aware that in all of those times, God walks beside us… and sometimes licks our face.