Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Angels Don't Always Wear White

"Glad-eyes," that's what he has, Molson, this friend of mine with golden hair and lolling tongue.

We run from the house into the evening air, his nails tap-tap-tap-tapping lightly on the pavement as my feet thud-thud beside him.
He dances with exuberant joy at being "out." Jumping high, he catches his red leash in his mouth and tugs me along; pulling it as if he is playing a joke, pretending that it is he taking me for the walk, which is probably true. He is so HAPPY and he communicates that with every fibre of his being and glance of his glad eyes.

The first rush of excitement settles and he trots forward with focus, pacing his trot perfectly to my stride. He is a gentleman of a dog, disciplined and well bred.

He reads the ground with his nose, as avidly as my father used to read the newspaper, and leaves messages behind for others who will follow. He looks as if he is about very serious business. I don't hurry him; it seems a small thing to wait when he is such good company.

Ah, these walks!

Friday evening the village is a-buzz with lawnmowers. It seems that people are getting a head start on the weekend chores. I inhale the scent of freshly mown grass.

On Saturday the sound of backyard fun fills the air, as if, with the chores done, it is time to enjoy the weekend. From behind hedges and fences come the sound of children's voices, laughter, and the splash of water in backyard pools. The appetizing smell of a barbecue tantalizes my nose.

Sunday night we walk under a rosy sky as God slowly pulls the blanket of the evening over the village. We pass a house with the garage lit up and the front door open. Lawn chairs sit deserted outside and from a stereo inside the garage comes the mournful, wailing sound of a country song. As we pass, the music gradually fades from our ears.

Along the way, I catch the scent of blossom from a nearby tree. I walk closer and stop to sniff the source. It is Molson's turn to wait patiently. If he wonders what I can find to smell on a tree when all the good smells are on the ground, he doesn't show it. He knows the first rule of friendship; acceptance.

Blue sky and fluffy salmon pink clouds are fading quickly into dusk.We run and I hear his tags jingling and his ears thudding he shakes his head.

I shout, "Hi" to a neighbour as we pass.

"Can I see your dog?" he asks, walking towards us past a lawn sprinkler.

"He's the best dog in the world," I say, "not a mean bone in his body."

"I had a Golden myself," he says, "he got old and we had to put him down just three months ago. His name was Gatsby."

"I'm so sorry-- but what a perfect name."

He is squatting beside Molson now and Molson is sitting while he pets him. He fingers his tag with the St. John's Ambulance cross.

"He's a therapy dog," I explain, "he visits seniors now. He's working his way up to visiting group homes. "

"Ah, they will love him," he says.

I say goodbye and walk on. The air carries the fragrant scent of wood -smoke from a backyard bonfire. Firecrackers go off intermittently; it is the eve of Canada Day. Molson doesn't react—he's so not high strung.

His cold, wet nose and mouth rub my hand in a sign of love. As we walk on, fireflies flash in the ditches.

I think of Gatsby, and Eric, my friend Dave's dog, and Irene's Henry, who were such faithful friends to them while they lived; and Molson, who is still fulfilling his assignment to love his people unconditionally. And I wonder if maybe dogs earn wings like Clarence the angel in the movie, It's a Wonderful Life.
I see a lot of God in dogs: Faithfulness, unconditional love and quick forgiveness.

I am so grateful for this four-legged angel, robed in a fur coat that I am sure hides his already earned wings.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Searching for Christmas

I wrote this seven years ago and Molson has aged since that long ago walk on a sweltering August day. This will be his last Christmas unless there is some special dispensation for the most faithful of dogs. It was so good to read this, and remember "then." And the message of the story still rings true.

August was hot and steamy. Sweat trickled and tickled down spines and hair clung droopily to heads. I explained to some English guests with a craving for bracing “fresh air,” that flinging open the windows would not help at all. After a few days here they believed me.

I got into the habit of taking late evening walks with Molson, our golden retriever. Normally he bolts from the house like an arrow from a bow, but even he moved slowly on those sweltering August evenings, with the fields surrounding our village buzzing and humming with the rhythmic pulse of insect life, and the intoxicating scent of summer blooms hanging in the still air.

With my senses drenched in summer, I had Christmas on my mind one night late in August. I pondered the next third of the year and wondered how to get it right. Maybe if I started now, I thought, this year I might find the Christmas I long for; because I’m looking for it every year—the one with the joy and the peace the angels talked about.[1]  They appeared suddenly to the shepherds, and just as suddenly they were gone, but I remember their promise, “News of great joy...peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

Jesus said of the Kingdom of heaven, that it “Is like treasure hidden in a field.”[2] That is the perfect metaphor for the treasure that is Christmas too, for it is also hidden, covered with earthiness; the sacred beneath the secular. 

The forces of a powerful enemy work to obscure it. He’s been doing so from the beginning. I mean the very beginning; when he, that old serpent, the first proponent of suggestive selling, said, “See this fruit? You didn’t know you needed it but you can’t live without it. What you have with God? It’s not enough.”

At the root of Christmas Gone Wrong; for me, at least; is the anxiety of “not enough.” Drill down deeper and “I” am not enough; the simplicity of the manger in Bethlehem is not enough; no gift I buy is good enough. The angels’ good news of joy and peace lies buried in a field of the enemy’s innuendo. And I buy into the lie; adding layer upon layer that obscures the simplicity of Original Christmas.

Bethlehem was small; the guest list hardly impressive; the venue was minimalist in the extreme. I am a follower of one born there, who lived his life peacefully and powerfully, unencumbered by entrapments, but my life often does not reflect that so well.

Dusk was falling around me as Molson and I walked home that August night.  I glanced at an old century home on the opposite side of the road. The steep gable of the Presbyterian manse pointed, as if to heaven and from a circular attic window twinkled two tiny lights; one red, the other green.

Forgotten Christmas lights, or a message from God? I choose to believe that he heard my heart cry and was sending a signal back to let me know.

Christmas--it’s a celebration of what happened in Bethlehem, pure and simple and that is so much more than enough. With God’s help I want to live out that truth this year and if I do, I know that I will find the Christmas I am longing for.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel[3] 

[1] Luke 2:9-14

[2] Matthew 13:44

[3] Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 4. Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903)