Tuesday, August 9, 2011

And All Shall Be Well

Bl. Julian of Norwich and Her Beloved Cat

To Think About...
Bl. Julian of Norwich was a 14th century English mystic and anchoress who, in 1373, voluntarily confined herself to a cell — or "anchorhold" — attached to a Norwich (England) parish. In that cell, in the sole company of her beloved cat with whom she is most often depicted, she devoted herself to prayer and contemplation for the needs of the Church, the citizens of Norwich, and for the whole world. 

In or around the year 1393, Bl. Julian of Norwich wrote a text called "Revelations of Divine Love," which elaborated on her understanding of the sixteen mystical visions ("showings") of Christ's Passion revealed to her in the throes of her own near-fatal illness twenty years earlier. This body of work captures Bl. Julian's meditations on God's inexhaustible love and mercy, the complexities of human suffering, and our Creator's trustworthy loving care. It represents the aggregate of her intense life of prayer, which was lived in union with God in the most intimate and mysterious ways. 

We can well imagine, however, the occasional loneliness that may have arisen from her vow never to leave her anchorhold. While she acted as a spiritual advisor to many people from behind the curtained window of her cell, we may surmise that it was her own dear animal companion that provided the blessings of tangible love and tactile comfort throughout the years spent in prayer and contemplation.

Perhaps her nameless yet famous cat was also her daily partner in prayer, one whose God-given nature was, likewise, both mystical and earthly. It may also have been this human-animal bond that helped to "anchor" Bl. Julian, the mystic, in the goodness and joy of the natural world.

One of the most often quoted revelations given to us by Bl. Julian of Norwich, which she received from the LORD as she anchored the Light during one of the darkest periods in world history, is this:

All things shall be well.
You shall see for yourself that all manner 
of things shall be well. 
 --L.T. Chapter 27 
Do you believe in God's ultimate Goodness? Do you believe that all manner of things shall be well?

For Further Reflection...
In many ways, Bl Julian was the Eternal Optimist…are you prone to paralyzing bouts of doubt and discouragement? Or are you able to move forward amid the darkness, “anchoring” the Light of Christ in your soul and in the world? To do so requires sacred trust in God’s unfailing love for you. Whatever the desire of your heart, if you believe it – you can receive it!
We may speculate that Bl. Julian’s beloved cat was attracted to the peace and confidence that radiated from her human companion. When you quiet yourself and your busy schedule to pray, is it any wonder that’s also the time when your animal companions tend to gather around you…to lie at your feet or to stretch out beside you, or to watch your lips move in prayer with a sense of quiet fascination?  They instinctively seem to know that you are somehow “different” or “transformed;” your peace in times of trouble is their refuge and delight.

More Words of Encouragement from Bl. Julian of Norwich... 

These words:
You will not be overcome
were said very insistently
and strongly [by Jesus],
for certainty and strength
against every tribulation
which may come.
He did not say:
You will not be troubled,
You will not be belaboured,
You will not be disquieted;
But he said:
You will not be overcome.
S.T. Chapter 22
(From Divine Revelation of Love)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dog Whispering 101

(originally published March 2010)

"You talkin' to me?"

The title of
“Whisperer” was in use long before the advent of the popular dog training program that has captured the fancy of today’s American pet owners looking for a quick fix for their dog’s problem behaviors. While the 1998 movie starring Robert Redford as The Horse Whisperer brought widespread attention to the idea that some people were blessed with mystical abilities to communicate with one or more animal species, the notion of “whispering” goes back to the early nineteenth century, when an Irish horseman, Daniel Sullivan, gained a reputation in England for rehabilitating horses that had become ill-tempered and untrainable as a result of abuse or accidental trauma. Since then, people have been quick to capitalize on the idea of being able to master both animate beings and inanimate objects. A brief internet search reveals such areas of expertise as:

Ghost Whisperer
Computer Whisperer
Turtle Whisperer
Car Whisperer
Elk Whisperer
Baby Whisperer
Cat Whisperer
Geek Whisperer
Crow Whisperer
Pet Whisperer
Boat Whisperer
The biggest pitfall of this self-proclaimed title is that Whispering is touted as a highly specialized gift that only certain people have to tame the wayward or the disobedient. However, the word “Obedience” itself is rooted in the latin word for “listening:: oboedire "obey, pay attention to, give ear," lit. "listen to," from ob "to" + audire "listen, hear.

In today’s obedience circles, it is the sound we make: a verbal command, a clicker, a whistle in the field, that conditions an animal to respond in a particular way. Failure by the animal to do so would be considered a “fault”.

But whose fault is it when an animal fails to respond? 

Perhaps it is the LISTENING that is most vital on both sides of the relationship. That means taking the quiet time to discern the motives, needs, fears, and desires of our animal companions before asking them to blindly obey. To do so, we need to learn to be still and listen to the interior whispers of the animals. Once we have realized our potential to do this (a proficiency, not a mystical power), we are in a better position to whisper back the words of love, understanding, and freedom that allow our animal companions to be as we ourselves are: creatures of free will who choose to love and obey, knowing that the One who whispers to us is all-loving, absolutely trustworthy, and always good.

For Further Reflection…
Whether in humans or in animals, changing behaviors takes time, repetition and consistency. Have you become enslaved by certain patterns of thinking or behavior that are harmful to yourself, your image of yourself, or your ability to live each day in the joy of the Lord? Be still and listen to the gentle whisper of God…Is there something He is asking you to do or to change? What keeps you from being obedient to His will and instructions for your life? Can you make one small change today that will set you on the path to freedom in Christ?

There is an expression: “might makes right” that often prevails in both the secular world as well as in certain schools of dog obedience training. Have you ever found yourself, perhaps out of sheer frustration, resorting to harsh corrections, physical punishment, or force-based training devices or techniques? Stop, be still, and take some time to listen to what your dog is expressing to you through his eyes, body language, and behavior. Does your dog respect you – or fear you? Consistent, firm corrections and instruction, offered in the Spirit of love, will gradually elicit a consistently positive and respectful response. In what Spirit do you communicate with your dog?

Every day, catch your animal companion doing something RIGHT! Praise her and encourage her to repeat this positive behavior…time, consistency, patience, and praise will win her heart and her willful ways. In the meantime, why not pray for your pets and the wisdom to know and understand their needs? When we pray, we open ourselves to the wisdom of GOD, the heavenly Whisperer, who knows the hearts of his creatures better than any “whisperer” on earth!

The Word of the Lord:
1 Kings 19: 9-18
The LORD Appears to Elijah

And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." 

The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Missing Amazing Grace

The following is the inaugural essay posted on the original paws4prayer.com website. As summer approaches and we travel to our family's cottage on Lake Wallenpaupack, PA, I'm reminded with tender pangs of the first summer we spent there...Grace's first, and her last. Nevertheless, she remains close in spirit, her paw prints as large as ever on the loamy shore of the lake and in our hearts as well....
Grace in the Field

Do not forget to show hospitality
to strangers, for some people
have entertained angels without knowing it. 
Hebrews 13: 2

Falling For Grace

     Grace came into our lives eleven years ago on the heels of the devastating and sudden loss of our four-month old puppy, Lincoln, who we adopted from a local shelter. She was almost doomed at the start to be the "replacement," a consolation prize in the wake of our grief and longing for the one that somehow got away. 
     It was not a very fair or fortuitous beginning, and yet she lumbered into our lives and waited...waited with amazing grace for us to fully open our hearts to her. That's how her "official" name came to be: Amazing Grace of Warren -- a small town in New Jersey where we lived at the time.
     Grace was one in a litter of four Golden Retriever puppies born on the same day as our only daughter. We thought it was a happy sign that we had found the puppy that God meant for us to have in our lives. She was a big, healthy female pup whose father weighed in at a colossal 110 pounds. But for us, that only meant "more to love" -- if and when we allowed ourselves to fall in love again.
     Gradually, and surely, we fell for Grace. She had the consummate Golden Retriever temperament: sweet, loyal, gentle, and forgiving. But there was something else about Grace that stood out from the other Goldens I had known or raised in my lifetime. She was simply not a retriever. Throw a ball, it would land with a dull thud. Flick a Frisbee and it would sail across the lawn while Grace watched with only the mildest interest in where it would land.  But that didn't stop us from trying. We'd coat the Frisbee with a little peanut butter before tossing it into the air. Then she'd run after it all right, but only to lick the rim of the disc and then saunter back to us with a satisfied grin. Once we paired her with my brother's Labrador Retriever, Chevis, who was the poster boy for his breed. He didn't need to be told to go-get ANYTHING. His eyes were trained on the object of his desire the very minute it was launched into the air, eager to chase and retrieve it. If we threw it once, we threw it at least a dozen more times. He had us all programmed quite well.
     Grace watched Chevis fetch her toys with his distinct brand of joy and abandonment to the game. At some point, she decided it looked all right to her after all -- at which time she began to good-naturedly ambush Chevis as he returned from fetching the ball or disc, cajoling it from his mouth when he was three-quarters or more of the way back. Then she'd drop the toy at our feet and wait for the effusive praise she'd seen Chevis receive, delighting in her accomplishment.
But when Chevis wasn't there to do most of the work, Grace simply wasn't interested. And after awhile, we came to accept it just wasn't her "thing." But what she lacks in the field she makes up for in hospitality, for there has never been a person or animal to enter our home who has not been joyfully welcomed by her hulking 90 pound frame. 
     A twenty-pound puppy with razor sharp teeth and michief in his eyes? She bows to play and seems to say: my house is your house; my people are your people; my food bowl is your food bowl...come on in!
     A delicate two-pound kitten who comes with a lion-size attitude? She patiently waits with her chin on the floor, gazes longingly, and eagerly anticipates the joy of their first meeting...come on over!
     A parade of visitors of every size, shape, and disposition? She perks up at the sound of the doorbell, seeming sure that whoever stands on the other side is someone she's been waiting for all of her life.
     This is her gift, this graciousness that she lavishes upon every other living creature. Grace may never be a great retriever...but truly, she is a great receiver!
     She has taught us much about the spirit of hospitality that Scripture exhorts us to extend to everyone we meet. May we never miss an opportunity to make the stranger among us feel welcome in our lives and in our world...for Christ himself may be passing by!
A Portrait of Amazing Grace

Rest In Peace, Our Beloved Grace
2/28/95 - 2/29/08

Monday, June 13, 2011

Animals in Heaven?

For those who have recently lost a beloved animal companion, it's only natural to wonder whether it's consistent with God’s plan for animals to be in Heaven. While the Catechism of the Catholic Church doesn't provide a definitive answer, the remarks made by the late Blessed Pope John Paul II – as well as the Word of God – seem to favor belief in God’s intention that the animals should be reunited with Him in His eternal Paradise:

In 1990, Blessed Pope John Paul II proclaimed that “the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren.” He went on to say that all animals are “fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect” and that they are “as near to God as men are.” 

The Holy Father reminded people that all living beings, including animals, came into being because of the “breath” of God. Animals possess the divine spark of life—the living quality that is the soul—and they are not inferior beings, as factory farmers, fur farmers, and others who exploit animals for profit would have us believe. 

When Blessed Pope John Paul II traveled to Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, in his Message of Reconciliation delivered there, he said that the “solicitous care, not only toward [people] but also toward animals and nature in general,” that St. Francis demonstrated is “a faithful echo of the love with which God in the beginning pronounced his ‘fiat,’ which brought them into existence.” And, the Pope added, “We, too, are called to a similar attitude.” And then, there God's Word on the subject…

Ephesians 1:10 says: "This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head." When God says "everything," is there any room for doubt? 

And when He says in Isaiah 34:17 (cited below) that these living creatures will live in the land "age after age," and it will belong to them "forever," does this not signify eternal life? Only one place will last forever, and that is Heaven!

Search in the Lord's book of living creatures and read what it says. Not one of these creatures will be missing and not one will be without its mate. The Lord has commanded it to be so; He Himself will bring them together. It is the Lord who will divide the land among them and give each of them a share. They will live in the land age after age, and it will belong to them for ever." —Isaiah 34:16, 17

While only humans are made in the image and likeness of God and are the summit of His divine work, He also lovingly imagined and bestowed upon each animal its own unique nature and image. As with his own sons and daughters, He endowed and animated each creature with the universal “spark of life” – a living soul that is precious in His sight (re: the sparrow in Matthew 10:29). Perhaps it is the height of hubris that humans should limit the mercy of God and the gates of Heaven solely to those of our own kind! As for me, I don’t know if we will encounter the bodies of our beloved animal companions as we knew them on earth – but I believe I will surely recognize the unique “spark” of my beloved animal companions in Heaven and delight in their unmistakable energies, radiant in Divine Love! 

What do YOU believe?

Monday, May 9, 2011

What's In A Name?

Spring has sprung! And with a seasonal uptick in the number of people who will adopt or otherwise bring new animal companions into their homes, it's the season for "naming names" -- an exercise that's often based on whimsy or wit or popular trends. 
from the very beginning, God has made a habit of naming names. When He wasn't selecting a particular name Himself, He was delegating the responsibility to one of His trusted human friends. For instance, in Genesis 2:19, Adam was entrusted with the awesome task of deciding the name of every living creature created by God, thereby revealing not only what they were at the moment of creation...but also what they would be for all eternity. Similarly, Adam referred to the special companion given by God as "Woman", (Genesis 2:23) later giving her the name Eve ("Living One") because she had become "the mother of all the living" (Genesis 3:20).
In Biblical times, names were not mere conveniences. They were imbued with meaning and revelation. For example:
God changed Abram's name to Abraham to mark His divine ordinance that he would become the father of a host of nations (Genesis 17:5). Isaac (Genesis 17:17, 18:12), meaning "laughter", was the God-appointed name for Abraham's and Sarah's son, recalling their reactions when they first learned that Sarah was to bear a child at the ripe old age of ninety.
Esau, meaning "hairy", denoted a physical feature that would figure predominately in the conspiracy to deprive him of his father's special blessing (Genesis 27). Meanwhile, his twin brother's name, Jacob, foretold Jacob's ultimate "supplanting" of Easau's birthrights (Genesis 25:31-34; 27:36). Later, after wrestling with an Angel (Genesis 32:25-29) God -- through the mouth of His angel -- gave Jacob the new name of Israel because he had "contended with divine and human beings and had prevailed."
The name Solomon means "peaceable" -- a fitting reflection of the reign of peace (shalom) and prosperity that Israel was to enjoy under his wise and Spirit-led kingship (1 Chronicles 22:9).

In the Gospel of Luke, (1:13) God instructed Zachariah, through His angel Gabriel, to name his son John, meaning "Yahweh has shown favor," an indication of John (the Baptist's) role in salvation history. It is in this same Gospel, (1:31, 2:21) that the angel, Gabriel, announces to Mary what she was to name the Son of the Most High: Jesus.
From Abraham (Genesis) to Saul (the post-conversion Apostle "Paul" in Acts), God has taken a personal interest in the naming of all of his creation: people, prophets, animals, holy mountains, stars, rivers, valleys, angels, orders, and dominions, and most importantly: He has given Himself "a name above every other name" (Philippians 2:9) so that we can enter into a personal relationship with Him through His only Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
So, what will you name that new animal companion that has appeared in your life in some spontaneous or well pondered way? Will you succumb to pop culture or the obvious "Spot" or "Rover" mentality? Or will you give him or her a meaningful name that hints at not only who they are now...but who and what he or she will become to you and to the world in the months and years ahead?

When Jesus gave Peter the "new" name Cephas, an Aramaic word meaning "Rock," (John 1:42) he no doubt confused and humbled this poor fisherman whose impulsive character was well known to all. Yet, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. "You are Peter [Cephas], and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:17-19) He didn't see an ill-equipped, temperamental fisherman with good intentions...God saw a man after His own heart, a man of strength, character, courage, and faith. A man trustworthy of the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Peter himself did not know what he already was: rock solid. It was a quality ordained, revealed, and fulfilled by the Master's touch.
So, too, with what identity, role, and purpose will you anoint your animal companion? Give thought to her special qualities, the expression in his eyes, her movement, his spirit, her unique personality, and the promise and meaning of the bond between you. Pray on it, then choose wisely, for God himself shows us that the authority to "name" another living thing is an awesome power and a sacred trust.

For Further Reflection:

Just as Jesus was revealed by the angel Gabriel as the Son of the Most High, so too, are we told in this and other Scripture passages that we ourselves are children of God. Through the Holy Spirit at work in our parents, each of us at birth was given a name...do you know the story of your name, the hope, meaning, and expectation behind your parents' decision? Have you ever stopped to acknowledge your name -- "common" though it may seem -- as a thoughtful and divinely inspired choice that reflects your dignity and identity as a child of God?
Peter (Cephas) was the first to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in response to Jesus' question: But who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:17). Despite the supernatural grace that enabled Peter to make this confession, Peter (and perhaps others) must have been hard pressed to believe that Jesus could see him as the rock upon which He would build His Church, a worthy keeper of the keys to his heavenly Kingdom! Yet, the vision of Christ is deeply penetrating, perfect, and true. When Jesus looks at you, what -- and who -- do you think He sees? Why not ask Him, in a spirit of humility and trust, to show you the answer to this question -- and to help you fulfill this purpose and identity in the days, months, and years to come?

Here is a dedication prayer to use upon naming your animal companion:
[Name of Animal] may you be blessed
in the name of the Holy One
who created you,

and may we enjoy life together
and care for one another in peace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Paws 4 Prayer?

Love animals.
God has given them the rudiments of thought
and joy untroubled. 
~ Fyordor Dostoyevsky

It's taken me awhile to get this blog up and running....why is it that we so often defer what God lays on our heart to do? In my case, it was simply a matter of thinking there were more "important" things I needed to do. And yet from morning till night, I'm deeply conscious of and grateful for the gifts my four animal companions -- an English Setter, a Cav. King Charles Spaniel, and two house cats -- bring into my life.

Between (canine) Jonah's irrepressible "James Cagney" grin and Tristan's truly cavalier style, and amidst the antics of two young cats (Gypsy & Gilmore) who remind me that play is a vital part of everyday life, I am blessed to share time and space with these creatures who teach me by example what it is to be joyfully ENGAGED in each and every moment.

By virtue of their everyday faithfulness to their God-given natures, our animal companions offer us a glimpse of what it means to be perfectly centered in the will of God. In my daily reading of Scripture, which magnifies the wonder of even the least creatures among us, and in my study of the lives of the Saints, I came to realize that communion with the natural world and its creatures is a pathway to both holiness and self-discovery. Saint I'm not, but I've found this path to be ever more trustworthy in my own life as well. 

My animal companions have also given me a glimpse of what it is to love unconditionally and to live in that blissful state of "joy untroubled." They are sentinels at the gate of God's kingdom here on earth, where I can choose to enter any time I exercise love, compassion, justice, and reverence toward life, in all its manifold forms.

May these simple stories and meditations to come awaken or enhance your understanding and love of GOD, who is in all things, above all things, and constantly revealing Himself to us through all living things. And may your beloved animal companions be your conscious and your guide to living wholly, and holy, in each singularly beautiful and awesome moment!

With one voice and one breath, let us pause...pray...and praise the LORD, for we are ONE in God's Kingdom of Love!

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Gypsy & Gilmore


Our Beloved Grace (RIP)