It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me will a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog, and will become loving as they are.
Leroy, our dog of more than 10 years died last month. He was a little guy with feet too big for his body; something upon which everyone who met him commented. Those big feet have left enormous footprints in our lives.
He was part of our family. As a Caviler King Charles Spaniel, I think Leroy knew his breed contained the word “king.” As the “king,” he demanded our attention, usually in the best of ways. While he was happy to be fed, walked, and have his ear scratched, his greatest delight seemed to come from simply being near us.
Anyone who has had a dog knows of the unconditional love they can show. Leroy didn’t care about how we looked, how we dressed, how we spoke, our politics, our morality, our economic status, our jobs, our education, the color of our skin, our country of origin…I don’t ever recall an argument with him or getting a lecture from him on any of those subjects. Instead, whenever our eyes would meet, his tail would wag, which made me smile.
I think their hearts are what first attracts us to our dogs and makes us fall in love with them. Leroy’s heart was always open to me, inviting me in, and, despite its small physical size, his heart was big enough to hold without judgment all that was me.
Looking back on the moments we shared together, I am aware that Leroy was simply always fully present in the moment; he was never lost in his past or worried about his future. Sadly, I was rarely fully present with him. Too often I was elsewhere, “anywhere but here, anytime but now.” My mind was too noisy and my heart was too small for his 25 pounds. Even so, with his big eyes, big feet, and his heart bigger than mine, Leroy always accepted from me without complaint the little or the much I could offer him in that moment. It is a remarkable offering of love.
Why could I not be as fully present in our moments together as Leroy was with me? Why is my heart too small for even a little dog?
Well, it seems to be a hallmark of humanity to live in our heads and to be anywhere but “now.” While the mind is not evil, its needs and desires are endless. So are its fears…Analysis [which can be good] is achieved by the mind…the mind does not have an “off” switch. When we are not actually using it, it carries on under its own power behaving as if it were in charge and issuing a constant stream of comments and challenges, almost all of which are of a negative character…The stream of thoughts is negative because the mind dwells in a land of unrelenting desire and boundless fear, and it attempts to influence us to experience these two areas as our rightful home…The mind prefers to work in the past or future, since these dimensions are both actually constructs of the mind’s own workings and thus the mind controls them. The present moment, however, is completely outside its control and therefore ignored.1
The human mind races; we learn to do that from the youngest age. We look at everything and render analysis and judgment: safe or dangerous, tasty or sickening, beautiful or ugly, good or bad. We need analysis and judgment; however, if your head is like mine, it too often runs amok in ways that are not relationally or psychologically or spiritually helpful.
And even my morality—which comes from my Christianity and, admittedly, sometimes from my culture—encourages judgment: Are you one of us or one of them? Sinner or saint? Woke or not? Progressive or conservative? Pro-choice or pro-life? Noise, always noise.
The noise in my head can be deafening. How I long to have the large heart of little Leroy that was fully present to me and fully accepting of me; like him, I want to have room in my heart for the person in front of me, simply taking in all that they are.
The dark storm-clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Your fire is burning brightly. Outside [i.e., in the mind] is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence. The heart sings, Alleluia!2
Silence is the language of the heart, silence is the language of Heaven, silence is the language of God. The Church has always known of this “silence.” In fact, the very purpose of the ascetical practices (“spiritual disciplines”) of the ancient Church are to give us a way, working in synergy with God, to quiet our thoughts (control our disordered passions) so that our “minds will descend into our hearts” where Christ dwells within us. It is the way find to St Paul’s “peace from God that passes understanding.”
Rather than dwelling in our hearts in the moment, experiencing God by contemplating whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—anything that is excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8), we focus on the voice of Satan and stay in our minds dwelling on the thoughts, emotions, and feelings of gluttony, lust or fornication, avarice or love of money, dejection or sadness, anger, despondency or listlessness, vainglory, and pride.3
The Church warns us about these unchecked “deadly thoughts”—this constant noise in our heads—because the language of God is silence; not silence of emptying my head of all the “noise”; rather, it is the silence that comes from filling my mind with God so that I let my mind descend into my heart where Jesus dwells.
You, me, God…we are not things to be judged, items to be sorted, categorized, and labelled; rather, we are persons to be experienced, beings to share life together. I don’t want to judge you (though I do); there is already too much of that. And God knows there is good and bad in me—my heart contains both sheep and goats—so that you could very easily judge me.
Life is is not about being “right” it’s about being together, sharing life with each other and with God. Interestingly enough, Jesus never once suggested to His disciples that they be right. What He did demand is that they be righteous.4 To be “righteous” is to share in the life of God, which is to be on the journey to becoming “fully human” in which I see myself as part of humanity—all of us “in Him”—and not as an isolated being.
The past is gone and the future is not here. The only reality is the present moment. It is the only place God exists.
In the madness of this world and in the noise in my head, being fully in the moment where, in the presence of Christ, I will find Christ’s light and peace, silence. And my heart will sing, Alleluia!
Join me in learning from Leroy. Try to inhabit the present in the silence of Christ, so that with Him you might be fully with someone today. Please pray for me that I might, as well.
- Webber, Metetios. Bread & Water, Wine & Oil: An Orthodox Christian Experience of God. 17-19.
- “Akathist to the Glory of God.” Ode 5.
- Called Logismoi, early Church Father Evagrius’ grouped them into eight deadly thoughts. These later became the “seven deadly sins” of Roman Catholicism.
- Bread & Water, Wine & Oil. 40.