GOING TO THE DOGS (IN A GOOD WAY): A GUEST BLOG
When Alaric first asked me to write a blog I must admit to having felt rather inadequate to the task. Though there are many examples of dogs in literary history (Argus in Homer’s Odyssey, Benedicò in Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Gattopardo, Blue in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Laska in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Pilot in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre just to name a few) none of them speak, as it were, so I could not use their thoughts as inspiration for my own. Whilst I admit that there are dogs of the Disney variety who seem to be possessed of more fleshed-out personalities, one could hardly expect Pluto or Goofy to pen thoughts on such a topic as the Resurrection.
Turning, then, to Sacred Scripture, I was dismayed to see that we dogs are frequently portrayed in a negative light, used as examples of things which are lower than low. We hear in the 22nd Psalm that dogs have surrounded the psalmist, whom he links with evildoers. In 1 Samuel, the Philistine asks David “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” and goes on to curse him. In Philippians we are told to “beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers” as if they are one and the same. Even our Saviour, the Prince of Peace, makes a rather harsh allusion to the canine set when He says “it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Thank God for the clever comeback of the recipient of His words: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Well played, Syrophoenician woman; well played.)
But then, going through possible things to take with me to read during my upcoming retreat in the mountains, I came across Flush: A Biography, by the sublime Virginia Woolf. The book is a commentary on various aspects of life as seen through the eyes of the eponymous canine companion of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Flush is a cocker spaniel, and, though I have had some rather unpleasant rows with a cocker spaniel named Mike who lives quite near the vicarage, one tries not to judge, and even a cursory glance at the material shows that Flush cannot be tarred with the same ill-tempered brush as Mike based solely on breed. (God, it would seem, is always sending us gentle reminders against the error of judging others!)
The book tells of Flush’s life with Elizabeth Barrett, a comfortable life by all accounts in which the dog is adored and showered with affection by one and all. (O, how I understand that …) Flush’s idyllic life is turned upside down, though, when Miss Barrett begins a courtship with Mr. Robert Browning, and the dog begins to feel neglected. There is little time to enter into the sadness of that particular element of the story when a new tragedy befalls our young canine hero: he is dognapped! Miss Barrett pays the ransom to have him released from the dreaded Rookery Saint Giles and, happily, they travel to Italy together.
It is in Italy that Flush knows, for the first time, true freedom, and this is what makes him an appropriate mascot for Easter, since the very festival itself is all about being unshackled. At the Easter Vigil, we heard in the Exsultet, the Church’s great proclamation of Easter, that we, too, have been ransomed by Jesus; we, too, have been freed from slavery as were our ancestors; we, too, have been freed from the prison of death. Like Flush, who once having entered into the wonders of freedom could never imagine going back to his shackles, we, too, know that new life itself has been given to us. What good would life have been for us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer? What exquisite words! What a divine rhetorical question!
How wondrous to be freed from sin and death! But this freedom in Christ is not simply given to us an individuals, but also for the strengthening of the Body of Christ here on earth. We have all been redeemed; we have all been entrusted with the responsibilities which go hand-in-paw with our freedom in Christ. Knowing that we have been freed means that we must use our hearts and hands and voices to act against those who would still enslave others, through violence, bullying, wilful misunderstanding, hatred, racism, homophobia, sexism, division, negativity. We who have been made free in Christ need to do all in our power to ensure that the liberation we know covers the earth like a beautiful field, speckled with the flowers of peace and of love. It is for this reason that Christ rose from the dead, and for this reason that we form a band of brothers and sisters in His name.
Thus endeth the lesson for today. Now I humbly set quill aside and turn to more dogly pursuits, of cavorting in the vicarage garden and giving into the irresistible delight of a belly rub on the sofa. But I leave you with words from the exquisite Mrs. Woolf: Now in Florence the last threads of his old fetters fell from him. The moment of liberation came one day in the Cascine. As he raced over the grass “like emeralds” with “the pheasants all alive and flying,” Flush suddenly bethought him of Regent’s Park and its proclamation: Dogs must be led on chains. Where was “must” now? Where were chains now? … He ran, he raced; his coat flashed; his eyes blazed. He was the friend of all the world now. All dogs were his brothers.