Guest Post by Judy Knotts
What Is It We Want?
What is it we all want most? Is it money, fame, power? Is it a job, good health, a home? Is it relief from mental and physical pain? Is it an opportunity to get an education? Is it to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed to Americans in The Bill of Rights, an amendment to the United States Constitution, including Freedom of Religion, Speech and the Press?
Certainly a few these matter only a little, while others matter a lot. To me the answer is simpler. I think what all of us want is to be loved unconditionally. But what does this mean and how do we know we are loved?
Those who read the bible and perhaps go to church or temple, believe that they are each cherished by a loving God. It is the foundation of their faith. Many who don’t believe in a creator God, still admire the wonders of our world and our lives. Sometimes seeing a baby come into the world from the physical act of sperm and egg connecting is enough to inspire belief in a loving superpower.
Yet even for those bible-reading and church-going folks, doubt creeps in. Who is this God who supposedly loves me despite my many shortcomings? The leap of faith is enormous and not always satisfying in its specificity, which I guess is why it’s called a leap of faith. Being awkward, earth-bound, pleasure-seeking creatures, we don’t often feel worthy of love. We can’t even imagine what being loved without limits looks like or feels like.
So this is where dogs come in. It could be a heresy for the church hierarchy; however, here goes my canine theory. Working dogs and dogs in our families, or even in a shelter, love us unconditionally. They have the capacity to forgive, forget, and love us again and again, even after we fail them. They soften our hearts and show us how to love, not by just by our words, but by our actions. They give us a glimpse of God’s unconditional love which we cannot really fathom.
With a pack mentality, dogs relish relationships. Children grasp this intuitively. People who are lonely, handicapped, or suffering often turn to dogs for comfort—instant canine therapy. Dogs don’t care if you are old, or didn’t get the promotion, or flunked the math test. When you return home from a 20 minute errand or a day away, they greet you as if you were the most important person on the planet. It’s love you can feel.
Children and most adults think of their dogs as family members. Children, especially, are suspicious of heaven if their dogs cannot enter. There has been much theological debate on this topic from scores of people—everyone from Aristotle to The Reverend Billy Graham. As you can imagine, opinions vary. Today, the most we can hope for is to hang onto a line from the prayer at the end of LAUDATO SI’, an ENCYLICAL LETTER OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS, May 2015: “For all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.” Fingers crossed! Pups in heaven.
Jackie, a pound rescue pooch, is the life-line of love for my friend who lives alone in a housing project, and Jackie gets her favorite barking bacon strips as often as her mistress can manage. Rascal, a mini wolf-dog, lives on the streets with his master, a metal-studded man who sees that Rascal wears his coat when it is cold and sleeps next to him at night to ward off the wind. When I first encountered homeless people with dogs, I was judgmental thinking—“How can they pay for dog food and the vet? Isn’t that poor money management?” Over time I learned, the dogs were key to their survival. Their dogs were the tangible, unconditional love, homeless people—all people crave.
So to my way of thinking, dogs are sort of like four-legged ambassadors or maybe better, missionaries of love, showing us here and now what it means to be loved without conditions or limits. Not for what we have, or do, or look like, but for who we are inside.