Since adopting Becket this past spring, I have learned that dogs have an extraordinary ability to expand human beings' worldview beyond the narrow field of vision we usually inhabit. This may sound like a rather grandiose claim, but people with dogs will get what I'm talking about. What interests and concerns them is often quite different from the things that captivate humans. I had one of these grounding moments of clarity yesterday morning, while Becket and I were out for a walk and he was dragging me frantically down the block toward one of his favorite trees. I said to him--yes, I talk to my dog like he were a person--"I don't know, Becket. I think it's a little too early for the squirrels to be out." Well, he was going to check that tree anyway. After all, this is where he was used to seeing them. In the last several months, taking walks has become a major part of my life, one that has forced me to focus my attention in different ways. Before Becket, I never gave any thought to where the squirrels were or when they came out to forage for food, and I certainly never cared if one crossed my path. But when I see one now, Becket and I chase it as if this moment were the most important event of earthly existence. Barreling down the sidewalk at full speed, we chase it up some tree and skulk below vigilantly waiting for it to come down. Some of my neighbors who witness me running and laughing may think me insane or undignified, but I can tell that many find it amusing and delightful. To be quite honest, it's fun. Running with Becket is refreshing and enlivening, because it gives me permission to play and be silly in ways that I haven't done since I was a child.
At St. Joseph, Michigan with the pup.
Now, let me just say that I am not turning into one of those people who become obsessed with their pets. But I am grateful that Becket has forced me to see differently. His eye-level is not my eye-level, so I am learning to shift my eyes downward to where he lives most of his life, as well as far upward to the treetops where the squirrels are. This has helped me to notice things to which I had previously been oblivious, or at least, neglectful: the beauty of the trees and sky, the vibrant life of birds and squirrels, and the hazards of broken glass and garbage on the pavement. I realize that as I write this, my reflection has a kind of saccharine and childish quality to it. As an academician, theologian, and soon-to-be cleric, this is not writing that I am used to. But, then again, I am noticing that I need a bit of a break from all the seriousness to appreciate simple things, which are no less important than the matters and concerns that usually dominate my thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, we adults often unlearn how to appreciate simple joys and to play extravagantly as if nobody were watching. Becket acts as a corrective influence, forcing me several times a day to stop the serious work I'm doing to play fetch with him in the hallway of our apartment building--he especially likes squeaky tennis balls--whether I like it or not. Becket is quite vocal in pointing out that it is not all about me.
Becket having a good therapeutic romp in the grass.
In all this frivolity of squirrels and running and playing fetch, there is a serious theological opportunity. I know that this undercuts my argument for less seriousness, but it is actually a rather simple message. My walks with Becket provide sobering reminders that the human point-of-view is not the only one in Creation. One of the great sins of human existence is the anthropocentric arrogance that we often adopt with respect to the rest of the created order. The notion of humanity's stewardship of Creation, often practiced as domination and exploitation, is indeed supported by the Book of Genesis and other texts, but it is not the only Biblical perspective on Creation. The psalms, for example, offer a different account of who speaks and acts and responds to God's promptings. Psalm 104, in particular, portrays Creation as being active and responsive to God: "You make springs gush forth in the valleys; / they flow between the hills, / giving drink to every wild animal; / the wild asses quench their thirst.
/ By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; / they sing among the branches.
/ From your lofty abode you water the mountains; / the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work" (Ps. 104:10-13). The canticle, The Song of the Three Young Men, moreover, exhorts the natural world to praise and exalt God forever, including the mountains and hills, waters and streams, and the animal kingdom. "Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, and all you flocks and herds," it declares (Book of Common Prayer 1979, 89). It is a simple message that acts as a corrective for strip mining, ozone depletion, and overlogging the rainforest. It calls us into relationship with other creatures and forces us to consider perspectives other than our own. I could pontificate further on this point, but Becket is urgently thrusting his nose into my face, reminding me that it's time to go outside for a walk.