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Sandra Walkling lives in Tasmania and has been a member of the Carmelite Secular Order for over 30 years. In this reflection, Sandra shares her experience of relating with her dog and the many insights it offers us for our relationship with God. 

Have you ever seen how a dog greets their owner when they first come home after being out all day? It is totally unconcealed love and joy. My dog even hurls herself at me and she talks to me in her doggie language telling me all about what she has been doing and how much she missed me during the day. I don’t understand a word of what she is telling me but I do understand the love and longing she has for me.

This suggests to me that we don’t need to speak the same language as God for Him to understand us. He knows us so utterly and completely that He is able to transcend our inadequacies into communicating our real thoughts and feelings to Him. I sometimes feel incapable of expressing my feelings and yet we are assured that the Holy Spirit will help us (cf. Rom 8:26).

My dog has also shown me how to pray. Many times I will be sitting on my chair and she will jump up onto my lap. At first she can be quite restless and fidgety. I stroke her with my right hand and she settles herself down and then falls asleep. She trusts me enough to know that she is safe and that no harm will come to her. There is also an understanding between us that she can do this. Sometimes she will simply look up and gaze deep into my eyes. At that moment she and I are united as one.

To me this is how we are given the grace of contemplation. We can be going about our daily chores or even sitting in prayer and be quite restless and fidget when suddenly we will “look up” and gaze directly into the eyes of our God and feel at one with Him – the One whom we know loves us. Contemplation can be swift or can be extended. Whatever the moment we know that it is pure gift. It is God stroking us with His right hand that has settled our restless souls and allowed us to rest in His love. God has allowed us to gaze into His very soul and he into ours and we are united.

We know that we are created to grow in love and holiness here on earth so that we can see and enjoy our Living God face to face when we die. If you are like me you will be stumbling along making doggie noises in prayer and wagging our feeble tails trying to express our love for God in the best way we know how. All this grunting and wagging our tails can be very tiring and quite discouraging and we can feel that we are not getting very far in our quest for holiness – of reaching our full potential for which we were created. As for me this seems like it can be pointless and I wonder why God even bothers with me and that I will never be the someone that God could want to be with for All  Eternity.

God has shown me through my dog that He loves me unconditionally and all He asks of me is that I try to reach my full potential as the person He created me to be.

This is where my dog comes back into the picture. God has shown me that my dog, even though she is a dog, is an object of my love. She cannot read, write or play the piano. That is because she is a dog. And yet I love her for what she is. I don’t love her because we can sit down and have great discussions about philosophy or politics or even for that matter about religion but I love her because she is being exactly what she was created to be . . . a dog and she has reached her full potential of being a dog.  Conversely my dog does not love me because I wear the latest fashion or drive a nice car. Nor does she care whether I can play the piano well. She does not care if I have a shower or even if I am in a bad mood. She simply loves me.

There are times when I call her by her name and she ignores me and there are other times when I call her by her name and she immediately runs to me and does my bidding. Does that sound familiar? How often has God called us and we have chosen to ignore Him and yet there are other times, we too, respond with love and devotion. The difference of course is that my dog acts out of instinct but we – born in God’s own image and likeness – have free will. WE CHOOSE to ignore God or obey Him.

God has shown me through my dog that He loves me unconditionally and all He asks of me is that I try to reach my full potential as the person He created me to be.

This article was originally published in Mount Carmel (October-December 2019). It is gratefully published here with permission.