Ok, I am not usually a fan of dogs. They bark too much, require daily attention, make travel out of town more complicated, chew up everything in sight and generally just cost a lot of money. I am just not currently motivated to spend the time necessary to train a dog the obedience, respect, and cooperation needed for effective human companionship with me.
Having said all that, I was looking at our two dogs last night and reminded of the non-original thought that dogs can teach even us non-fans some things about love. Dogs
Rarely ignore you (unless there’s a squirrel nearby)
Are eager to please
Give affection unreservedly
Forgive you seventy times seven (maybe they just don’t remember)
Stay with you until their last aliquot of strength
Are content with the basics: food, shelter, attention
For many years I have periodically traveled to a Cistercian Trappist monastery for weekend retreats. When I lived in KY and TN I went to Gethsemani, best known as the former residence of Fr. Louis, i.e. Thomas Merton. Since moving to GA, I have now twice attended a similar retreat weekend at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA, which is actually a daughter house of Gethsemani.
These are silent retreats. Conversation is not exactly prohibited, but discouraged. Meals are eaten in silence (typically recorded music of Gregorian chant is played over speakers in the dining room). Those wishing to converse are directed to specific areas outside designated for that purpose. Retreatants are invited to join the monks at the Liturgy of the Hours beginning with Vigils at about 0400 and ending with Compline around 1930. At Gethsemani there are about 2500 acres of woods and fields, most of which are available to retreatants, laced with old logging roads and meandering trails. (Once I took a wrong turn in the woods and got very lost, very thirsty and very wet in a rainstorm before finally getting a ride back to the monastery).
In between those activities retreatants are free to pray, walk the grounds, and read, with daily and Sunday mass attendance suggested. The food is basic as are the accommodations.
Why do I go? Well, silence is a powerful tonic for the overloaded brain. Heck, even Jesus needed it (Mt 14:23). Silence is God’s first language. Silence is the space into which God can speak. Silence enables our faculties of contemplation and encourages a peaceful attitude toward life. I have spent weekends on retreat with only ordinary perceptions, and during other weekends have experienced profound and startling insights. One gains a brief glimpse into the monastic rhythm of waking, praying, working, and sleeping, over and over, in the context of a small community of men pledged to spend the rest of their lives in this one place. I am powerfully drawn to this experience, as are many others-weekend retreats are typically full of people like myself.
There is a lack in modern life, some essence that is drowned out by our constant busyness, electronic distractions, and fear of isolation. I am convinced there is real goodness in that essence. Going on retreat re-kindles the spark of the inner light that illuminates it. We ignore it at our peril.
In WWII around Christmas time a hospital ship was bringing wounded and maimed Allied soldiers home from Europe to the United States. Also on the ship, in the holds below, were German prisoners of war. The Red Cross had delivered Christmas packages to the Allied troops before departure. Enroute, the wounded soldiers opened their packages to discover a panoply of candy, crackers and other assorted goods. Although most were consumed quickly, there was a sizable surplus. Several of the Allied wounded got together and convinced their comrades to send the extra bounty down to the German POWs.
When the Germans received this gift, they were overwhelmed with gratitude. They began talking among themselves, asking “what can we do to show our thanks?” Being prisoners, they had little in the way of possessions to share. After discussion, they hit upon an idea. Practicing quietly among themselves, they prepared their gift.
Eventually the ship approached the shores of the United States. Early one starlit evening, facing an uncertain future as prisoners in a foreign land, the German soldiers began to sing. In beautiful harmony they raised voices to their benefactors on the decks above with a tender rendition of “Silent Night” in German. Many voices strong, they continued their serenade throughout the evening, repaying the kindness shown by their onetime foes.