The Grace of Ordinary Dog Days

It’s summer and the liturgical calendar rolls through Ordinary Time. True enough, the phrase “The […]

It’s summer and the liturgical calendar rolls through Ordinary Time. True enough, the phrase “The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time” doesn’t exactly titillate the senses. But this “ordinary” does not imply commonplace or routine events. It refers to a sequence of ordinal numbers—first, second, third and so on. For followers of Christ, this “ordinary” denotes the holy progression as described in the hymn: And step by step, You’ll lead me and I will follow You all of my days.

Lord knows, some days it is easier to find footing than others. I’m walking alongside a number of folks in the congregation through periods of suffering and loss. And it’s been so extraordinarily hot that it can be difficult to breathe! These “dog days” are named for the time when the brightest star in the summer sky passes through the constellation Canis Major. There are ancient beliefs about the power of this celestial Big Dog to bring fortune and success, as well as healing. Here on earth, I see dogs of all sizes struggling forward with their tongues hanging so low it seems like they might trip.

I am also much more likely to turn to written texts for wisdom than to read the night sky. Ever since I read her poem, I have been salivating over Denise Levertov’s lines: and float / into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace, / knowing no effort earns / that all-surrounding grace. Levertov penned “The Avowal” shortly after her conversion to Roman Catholicism. I strive to follow in Christ’s footsteps. But, lest my desire to do good works cause me to trip or stumble, I also need to be reminded of “that all-surrounding grace.”

During recent pastoral visits, it has been the wordless presence of man’s best friend that has preached to me. As I long for momentous moments of Levertov-like “floating” for those I minister to and care about, I have embraced the simple communion with them and their dogs in the quiet cool of a front porch. I don’t know if all dogs do go to heaven, but a faithful dog will wag her tail or lay his head upon your knee. While some continue to believe that our futures are written in the stars, such dogs act as though their highest calling is to be present with us. That is grace that’ll preach to this pastor as I try to follow God through ordinary time.