I spend much of my day in the company of our dog Max. In the Franciscan tradition, dogs, and all other creatures, are Words of God. Not Christ, the Word of God, but little Words. Pets, animals, sunsets, algae, indeed all creatures speak to us a message from the Creator.
Max is a 2½-year-old cocker-spaniel. His luxuriant golden coat shines in the sun. He walks with his leonine head held high. The long floppy ears hang down over his jowls. He is a striking dog. When people see him out walking they always exclaim how beautiful he is. Max loves that attention. For people who love dogs, Max is in the image of God, at least to the extent that he has irresistible beauty. He is the kind of dog who compels you to admire him.
If a dog can command that level of instinctive admiration, then how much more should God. If Max shines in the light, how much more does God shine. If Max walks proudly, how much more does God walk with pride among his people and his creatures. When we think of God, we think of an attractive beauty that invites our rapt attention. We should stop and praise him for his extraordinary loveliness.
Max is bred to be a companion animal. Max greets us both in the morning; and the greeting is appropriate for each of us. He greets Rae with effusion, bouncing up to her and wrapping his legs around her in his version of an embrace. He knows I respond to a different greeting, and he nuzzles my hand and waits for me to pat his head. He never forgets our morning greeting.
During the day, he continues to love us, delighting us with tricks and obedience when he can, jumping up to embrace us when we arrive or leave. If we accidentally tread on his tail or leave his water-bowl empty, he forgives us without question.
Max models God’s way of praying. God greets us every morning. God wants to embrace us over and over again during the day using whatever means he can find. Whatever we do to God, God forgives us. There’s no reserve when we have sinned, he doesn’t stand back for a while to let us feel more guilty; he simply resumes the enthusiastic loving.
Max reminds me how often I forget that God takes the initiative in prayer. My role is a poor attempt to catch up with the enthusiasm of God’s love for me. My response is not to resist the reality of God’s love (why would God love me without reserve?) but to marvel in its reality.
Max takes me outside several times a day. I’m an indoor person, and my health keeps me even more indoors than when I was younger. Max insists we inspect the village. He points out the birds in the hedge, often scaring them away. He paddles through the water on the road, splashing himself and me. He tugs at the lead so I will take him to watch the coy in the fish-pond. I don’t know what Max is thinking, but the effect on me of walking this dog is to see the glory of the world through his eyes.
Max reminds me to praise God for the fish, the birds, the sparkling water and the sun bringing warmth to a crisp winter’s day.
Max came to us with his name already decided. Now when I think of Max, I think of Ad Dei Maximam Gloriam, to the Maximum glory of God!