Thunderstorms undo our dog Gracie. Her acute hearing detects them long before our ears get the first clue. She’s like our canary in the coal mine. When she starts shaking, we look for clouds on the horizon and check the Weather Channel app.
In the predawn gloom of a recent power outage, a heavily stressed Gracie joined me in the living room. Normally, she would curl up at my feet or rest her head on my thigh. This time she leapt into my entirely-too-small lap. All thirty-five trembling pounds of her. Panting and slobbering and pressing as tightly to my torso as she possibly could.
I wrapped my arms tightly around her and murmured comforting words for the next hour.
The early morning usually serves as my contemplative time. That is when I intentionally welcome God into my life. Mind you, I realize that God is always already there. My contemplative practice is not devoted to persuading God to show up. Jesus taught us—by being God in the flesh—that God shows up. Always. Everywhere.
No, my contemplative practice is about learning to welcome the God who is already with me. As Richard Rohr likes to say, God is always present. Our challenge is being aware of God’s presence. Frequently, we are distracted, inattentive, or so focused on our own stuff that all we can see is ourselves.
At another point in my life I might have been impatient and counted the minutes comforting my anxious dog. Here neediness may have struck me as an interruption, an intrusion, delaying the holy and important work of God-time. And, yes, it is embarrassing to admit that I’m capable of being that dim and self-absorbed. But that’s not how things happened this time.
Instead, I sat patiently with Gracie because I didn’t want her to be alone in her fear. I remembered rocking my crying children when they were babies. The point was not to get them to stop crying, but to be with them through a difficult time that feeding and diaper changes didn’t seem to address.
I welcomed my crying children into my arms. I welcomed an anxious Gracie into my lap. Compassion, you see, is a form of welcome. And as it turns out, we are welcoming Christ into our lives when we offer compassion to our fellow creature. Even when we don’t realize that we’re doing it.
Here’s how Jesus put it, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40) We make God a part of our lives by welcoming the one he sent. And guess what! Anyone standing in front of you is the one whom God has sent.
This is another way of stating the second half of the Summary of the Law: love your neighbor as yourself. If you put your own desires or comfort or agenda ahead of your neighbor’s well-being, you’ve missed the point.
If your profit margin requires impoverishing your neighbor, it’s time to rethink what you mean by profit. If your freedom makes it hard for someone else to move and breathe, then it’s not really freedom you’re after. If your fabulous banquet leaves someone hungry, then you’ll be starving in the ways that matter for eternity.
As odd as it may sound to some, wearing a mask in public is a way to welcome God these days. We’re seeing a resurgence of coronavirus infections and a surge in resistance to wearing this scientifically-proven means to curb the spread of the virus.
Some people protest that being required by local government to wear a mask robs them of their freedom. In my next post I’ll discuss what we really mean by freedom and the distinction between liberty and licentiousness. After all, we’ll be recognizing the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence soon.
But for now, just consider Jesus’ teaching about welcoming God. We invite God into our lives when we show compassion to God’s children, when we love our neighbor as ourself. In other words, when we wear a mask in public we are guarding our neighbors—as best we can—from infection by a potentially deadly virus. We are doing what we can for the health and well-being of our community.
We can welcome and we can spurn God in all sorts of ways. Jesus and Gracie seem to agree on this.
Afternoon thunder showers are a norm here in Jacksonville. I spent a lot of time on a blanket on the floor with my granddad Maizey as we tried to make her last days and months more comfortable. Soon after we buried her in the back yard, there was a humdinger of a storm. At different times, my son and I and Maizey’s best bud spent time that night sitting by her grave and wishing away the boom booms. I think she and Jesus may have been looking down at the dummies standing out in the rain but I like to think we were all comforted by the memory of love. Dog love is the best.
Oh what a beautiful story! Dog love really is the best
My Bouvier, Buffy, all 100 pounds of her, found the smallest space she could fit in during thunderstorms and fireworks. A kneehole desk was her favorite, or under a bed. My cat, Beans, tried to hide under the bottom step in the front hall. Of course there was nothing for him to be under, but it’s where he went as storms approached. A good barometer. It’s such a gift to have these wonderful creatures as part of our lives. Even though the above situations don’t show it, I am so touched by the trust of those two, and all the other cats who have lived with me. And thanks to Gracie for her trust and showing us to trust God. Thank you for your holy messages. Noel Bailey
What would we do without our animal friends! And my goodness, 100 pounds is a lot of love! Our cat Iggy doesn’t seem to be bothered by thunder. He’s the imperious sort anyway.
Hello – Please update my email to firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you Carolyn Ledet
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This is a beautiful post. I look forward to your next thoughts on true liberty. I so appreciate your words about welcoming and compassion. May you be blessed abundantly for your compassion and welcome to all.
Thinking over this again (Sunday morning in NZ), made me think of Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee 😀
While reading this, I kept thinking how good it was for you to show compassion to Gracie–good for you, that is. Yes, Gracie was the recipient of your compassion, but, in another way, she was also the invitation, the opportunity for you to be compassionate. Being impatient with interruptions or resistant (as non-mask wearers are) are signs we are not open to being Christ-like. You reminded me that when I pray to be more compassionate, God sends people (or dogs) who need to receive compassion, but the point is about me being more compassionate rather than what they receive. This is a good reminder for me about non-mask wearers who are resistant/fearful/selfish–all invitations for me to be compassionate. Thanks
You and I are so on the same page!