Things A Dog Has Taught Me

Bro Duncan, the monastery dog
Bro Duncan, the monastery dog

A couple of times this week Bro Duncan and I have been viewing Hendred by night because he has been in agony (sic) with his tummy. You don’t think those 3.00 a.m. walks through the village were a sign of mere eccentricity, I trust? No, they were initiated by a large wet nose nudging me awake and indicating that, whatever the clock said, it was time to go OUT.

There is nothing like accompanying a hound to make one think. There is the eager-beaver approach to going walkies irrespective of time or place. All that dancing around and scooting up and down the corridor belies the kohl-rimmed eyes pleading, ‘I’m sick. I need to get out.’ But I fall for it every time and off we go. First there is the obligatory charge down the road and some lawn-mower-like chomping at the grass, which goes on for ages because ‘I’m sick, see, I need medication.’ This quickly passes into ‘How interesting this place is at night. Let’s explore.’ And so we do. We plunge into deeper darkness and hear only the strange, snuffly sounds of night.

In this deeper darkness, Duncan leads. We spend several minutes standing at a gate  while he traces the scent on a single blade of grass, savours it, commits it to memory and moves on, regretfully, as though there were a history he cannot share with me. Medieval rooftops look magical at night, even when there is no moonlight, but the biting wind does not invite lingering. So we walk and walk and I become a little suspicious about the upset tummy.

Seeing the village by night impresses me with how remarkable ordinary things are when viewed under different circumstances or from a different angle. Dare I admit that the familiar can become spooky, yet what was ugly by day can take on a strange  beauty at night? The change of perspective may be of no more than passing interest but sometimes it can lead to a reassessment of accepted values. I’m certainly not claiming that Duncan’s nocturnal ramblings have led me to any profound insights, but I will say this. Wisdom 18 verses 14 to 16 comes alive in a way it never has when read. The leaping down from heaven of God’s all-powerful Word is an event in time as well as beyond time, to be expected now as it was two thousand years ago.


12 thoughts on “Things A Dog Has Taught Me”

  1. I could not resist, of course, looking up the biblical reference, but could not find the Book of Wisdom. I learnt from Google that it is “not included in Protestant bibles” (make of that what you will!). For the sake of your many other Protestant readers, I hope you will not mind my quoting the (very apt) passage:

    “When peaceful stillness compassed everything
    and the night in its swift course was half spent,
    Your all-powerful word, from heaven’s royal throne bounded,
    a fierce warrior,
    into the doomed land,
    bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree.
    And as he alighted, he filled every place with death;
    he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth.”

    Wisdom 18.14-16

    • Thank you, Laura. I was being lazy! My Director of Studies at Cambridge used to say that Catholics believe everything Protestants do, only a bit more, which is why we have more scripture to read . . .

  2. The Wisdom quote is lovely and is used as the Magnificat Antiphon for Christmas in the C of E’s office book, Daily Prayer. Perhaps Bro Duncan is also aware of our Advent Responsory that tells us that ‘now is the time to awake out of sleep’, even if he is a little hasty in judging that ‘the night is far spent and the day is at hand’…

    • Dom David Knowles, the monastic historian, used to say that every fourth page he wrote had to have a dash of purple prose in it. I try to be a little more self-disciplined (because I’m not as good a historian or as great a writer).

  3. I’ve had a few nocturnal rambles with my own dog, Cookie. He doesn’t bother with any pretense, he jut tells you he wants to go out. It is a great time to think. I’d never seen the verse from Wisdom before, I wish I had, it’s lovely.

  4. Ike has led me out more than once on the pretense of “sick tummy”. Never being quite able to discern the truth, I always sleepily comply. Once outside I see the stars, maybe the moon, I think of God, and thank Him for a dog who knows when I need Him.

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