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A Lesson from My Dog

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.

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