My Prayer Dogs

Posted on May 26, 2019


My Prayer Dogs

I’ve been working on a book that takes me into the world of worship over the centuries. As I studied some aspects of religious worship, I ran into items like prayer beads, rugs, rosaries, bells, crosses of all types and sizes, and other material reminders to get us into the rhythm of worship. While I’m largely dealing with Christianity, other religious and faith traditions have their own reminders to get the juices flowing.

I remember first visiting the great cathedrals of Europe years ago and being suitably impressed by the soaring spires, immense dark spaces, the niches and corners and glorious chapels of the interior, the magnificent stained-glass windows, cherubims and saints galore dotting the walls and spaces, and thinking, “wow, this place is impressive!” Not your corner First (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) in small town or city America.

Why all this pomp and ceremony with swinging lamps of censers, appropriate attire with long robes, hoods, sandals, puffed sleeves and the things we used to associate with worship? Today a worship service is apt to feature tee shirts, shirttails, and the young crowd, both on stage and in the audience, dressed for a party at the frat house, or a picnic down by the river. Informality is the code, the buzzword of new churchgoers.

On the other hand, while the informality attracts the young crowd (Millennials, pre-Millennials, post-Millennials, etc.), I think there is something missing to remind us of how and why we worship.

Most don’t even carry a Bible to church and the program handed out serves as a reminder of what the worship service is about today. That program is a piece of paper, quite expendable and eventually a throw away item in the middle of the week, although they can serve as study guides in the hands of a good pastor.

There is, on the other hand, something comforting about a rosary, about crossing one’s self, about a painting of the young Jesus swapping knowledge with the old scribes in the Temple, astonished at the young man’s scriptural wisdom, and, of course, the painful paintings of a tortured and dying Jesus on the Cross. These all serve to remind us of the central elements of our faith.

I am reading two biographies of the Apostle Paul right now. Paul is interpreted by one of the biographers, N. T. Knight, a deep scholar of his life and times, with erudition, wit and wisdom.  I quickly found that one of the biographies had a picture section in the middle (images for you youngsters) and I pored through them quickly, saving them for a later, longer look, kind of like reading a National Geographic magazine where the images, maps, and pictures could drive a great piece on ancient Mastodons or Pygmies of the Amazon just with the images and subtitles. Who needed to read the text?

We learn in many ways. And we relearn and study and interpret and internalize and experience the new and the old through all our senses. I am rereading the Bible as part of my routine to keep me in the word which in turn keeps me in tune with whatever God wants me to learn today.

But I also learn when we take communion in Church, partaking together of the wine or grape juice and bread as symbols of remembering what Jesus did on the Cross for us. We can certainly read about it, listen to sermons on the sacrifice and atonement, discuss it in our Sunday school or small group, but stepping up to receive the communion elements serves wonderfully not only to remind us, but also to do it as a community, sharing in it just as Jesus left us his church to share his message and sacrifice.

So, who are my prayer dogs? They are my two Standard Poodles, Dudley and Miller, who survived the fire that destroyed our home two years ago, and their sidekick Stanley the Golden Doodle who joined our family a year ago. They follow me up to my study each morning, arrange themselves on their beds and blankets strewn about, and once we are all comfortable, I can start my reading. Occasionally one will offer his head to be scratched, but mostly they do what dogs do so well. They keep me company and remind me how much love exists between us, and how much should exist between all men and women, Christians and those yet to make the leap of faith into Jesus’s embrace.

Published as “My prayer dogs are a reminder of love” Feb. 10 2019 in The Tuscaloosa News