Learning from the Dog and St Benedict

A sleeping Fauve
A sleeping Fauve

Early this morning I went into the room where our Basset Fauve de Bretagne (Bro Dyfrig BFdeB on Twitter) sleeps. He may have registered my presence vaguely, but there was no wag of the tail to indicate that he had done so. He just went on sleeping, trusting that my purposes were honourable and food not involved. Wise dog!

Trust often seems in short supply these days. We have all been let down by others at times, sometimes hugely. Even more painful, I’d say, is the knowledge that we ourselves have let others down. With so many challenges on the political landscape — a pandemic, Brexit, a presidential election in the U.S.A., growing concerns about human rights and personal freedoms in many countries of the world — it can be tempting to become cynical, to adopt disbelief as our customary attitude, to trust no-one. The trouble is, cynicism rarely achieves anything positive.

The best antidote to cynicism I know is to be found in the twelfth step of humility, which we read in the Rule of St Benedict today (RB 7. 62–70). It isn’t just for monastics. It reminds us that hope is real, transformation possible, and ultimately God is in charge. Our sleeping dog is a good Benedictine — his trust is perfect. How about yours and mine?

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Two Hairy Brothers 6: Guardian Angels

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory,
Herefordshire

1 October, 2020

Dear Cousin Dunc,

I trust you are very cheery up there in Beyond. It’s a long time since we heard from you, and I must admit I miss you, especially now I’m becoming a bit old and creaky. Twelve last birthday, so no longer a young sprog!

Anyway, I have a theological question for you. What is an angel, and what are these Guardian Angels They are celebrating on 2 October? They seem to think these angel-types stick to Them through thick and thin, but I thought that was our job. Can you enlighten me, please?

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig xx

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond

2 October 2020

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

You’ll always be a young sprog in my eyes, no matter that your ginger is now streaked with grey, but I see you have learned some gravitas since we last corresponded. A theological question! That’s one for the books, I must say. I’ll do my best to reply.

There are quite a lot of angels in Beyond so I went and had a chat with my chum Raphael. (He’s the one who accompanied Tobias and his dog to Media, so he’s more dog-aware than most and always saves me some special tit-bit from the heavenly banquet to snack on between meals.) He said that the big yellow catechism book They keep in the library is a good place to start.

I had to overcome my natural reluctance to have anything to do with felines, but, apparently, ‘catechism’ is a Greek word that has nothing to do with cats so can be safely read by the likes of you and me.

I began at paragraph 325, which says God created everything, seen and unseen, and says quite a lot about angels, but stopped at paragraph 343 which says that man is the summit of God’s creation. Not entirely sure about that, but I let it pass.

Get this, though:

329 St Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.'” With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word”.

330 As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness.

Of course, some of them are too good-looking for their own good and think far too much of themselves. Look at the One Down Below and what happened to him! A warning to us all about vanity, even if we are the handsomest dudes on the block.

Anyway, there’s much more of the same, about how the angels are mighty spirits, messengers of God, singing God’s praises and intimately involved in the life of the Church. St Basil is quoted, ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life’. That’s the role of the Guardian Angel, but I noticed the Church has never defined that as an article of faith. We just accept it as the ‘mind of the Church’. St Jerome, who was regrettably more of a Big Cat man than a Dog man put it this way: ‘How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it. (Comm. in Matt., xviii, lib. II).

You and I probably agree that we share that guardianship role with angels but we have to accept that not everyone recognizes the canine contribution to the economy of salvation, not even some Human Beans. A pity, rather. It would transform their view of the world and make them much nicer.

I was looking down at the world from Beyond and thought to myself how busy all the angels must be, especially the Guardian Angels. There is such a lot of wrongness going on, and Human Beans being thoroughly nasty to one another. St Thomas, who should have been more of a Dog man, given that he was a Domini canis, said that only the lowest orders of angels were sent to guard Human Beans (Summa Theologica I:113:4). That’s one for their pride, isn’t it?

Mind you, if what St Thomas says is true, it means what we dogs do is very important.  We have to teach Human Beans so many things — how to be loving, uncomplaining, endlessly forgiving. We can teach them how to adore Him by gazing and gazing with eyes like melting chocolate buttons, and we can use our pester-power for the good of others. Human Beans aren’t blessed with four paws and a big nose, but they can still learn how to be more dog. I did my best with Them, and I’m pleased to see that you continue my work.

Look after Them until we’re all together in Beyond. They’ll thank you one day and recognize your true stature as a servant of the Most High. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if we and our kind aren’t angels in disguise, don’t you?

Best woofs,

Bro Duncan xx

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On Starting Afresh

Bro Duncan PBGV sending a message from Beyond

My first blog post of 2020 is not being written under the happiest of circumstances. The situation in the Middle East has brought home to everyone how fragile is the peace between nations, how easily the conventions by which we live can be overturned, and what a terrible price could be exacted for our folly. Yet still we persist. There is an obstinacy about human nature that, for good or ill, seems to determine the course we follow. I have therefore done what any sensible person would do and consulted my canine friends about how to proceed. Bro Dyfrig BFdeB was too busy napping to give a coherent reply, but Bro Duncan PBGV responded from Beyond in his usual good-tempered way. (I think they follow a different horarium up there.)

The trouble with you Human Beans is that you complicate everything. You spend far too much time giving everyone the benefit of your opinion instead of just getting on with the business of living. You waste so much energy saying Mr Trump was right, or Mr Trump was wrong, or the Ayatollah is doing this, that or the other, that you fail to see what is right under your noses. Yes, the world could go up in smoke tomorrow (then you’d all be with me in Beyond, which would be nice) but the chances are that you’ve got some more living to do down below and you need to make what you do worthwhile. You may not be able to do very much, but you can still make life pleasanter for those around you.

You can be kind, considerate and selfless. Rather like a dog, now I come to think about it. You can live in the moment, not in the past or the future. You can be grateful for everything, even the tiniest, silliest little thing — and it doesn’t have to be food. You can be ready for any adventure, no matter how much your old bones creak or the warm fireside lures you. Above all, you can learn to forgive. I don’t remember holding a grudge against anyone, ever (not even when BigSis forgot my Dentastick) and I know it made me a happy boy. Happiness is much under-rated by Human Beans. You think you will find it in having all the things you want. One day you will understand that that it is being with the Person you want that really counts. God is waiting for you Beyond. There’s no rush. He will call you when he’s ready. In the meantime, learn to be a good boy (or girl) like me and live in the sunshine of God’s love (like my successor, The Ginger Fiend).

That’s not quite vintage Bro Duncan, but it makes sense to me. The New Year may be looking a little ragged, but we start every day afresh, with new opportunities and new challenges. The love of God is the constant in our lives. As 2020 unfolds, we may need to remind ourselves of that more often. I have no doubt we will need to share it more often.

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Instant God: a Little Sermo Canis ad Anglos by Bro Duncan PBGV

I have never really understood why Human Beans think PBGVs (Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen) know all about laziness. The first sniff of a rabbit at five thousand paces and we are away. The merest chink of kibble in the food bowl or covert unwrapping of a morsel of cheese and we are by our Human Bean’s side. Even here, where we stretch out in the sunshine of God’s presence, waiting for Them to turn up at the Pearly Gates and make our heaven complete, every nerve is alive, on the alert for everything happening down below; and I must say, recent events have made me realise what silly-billies most of you Human Beans are.

After much thinking, I have come to the conclusion that it is because you are ever so slightly . . . lazy. You want instant solutions that require no effort or exertion on your part. If you have a ‘comfortable shape’, you want to attain your ideal body shape in a matter of days, without the pain of changing your diet or exercise regime. You believe that all your problems will be solved if you can rid yourselves of ‘difficult people’ — the ones you don’t like or fail to understand. You can ridicule them as ‘pompous fools’ or tell them to ‘go back where they came from’ or simply behave so brutally that they will want to get away from you as fast as their little legs will carry them. (In the case of PBGVs, whose legs are indeed little, that is very fast indeed: try saying ‘Vet!’ or ‘Time for your grooming!’ if you don’t believe me.) Then there are those Human Beans who want others to do all the work for them. I call them Instant Gratification Grabbers or IGGs for short. Rather than read a book or even scan a web page, they will send someone an email asking for all the information they require on a certain subject and be grumpy and grudging if they don’t get an instant reply. I have sometimes thought about taking such Human Beans hunting with me, but it wouldn’t be much fun. You need patience to catch rabbits, and lots of persistence, but those who want instant answers wouldn’t know about that.

The big problem, as I see it, is with Human Beans who want Instant God. They want God to be created in their own image and likeness, doing their bidding whenever they deign to notice him. So, they are happy to ignore him most of the time, but the moment something nasty or difficult occurs, there he must be, the kind of God they want at that minute, all trendy and treacle-y, endorsing the latest fashionable fad without so much as a Commandment or Gospel precept to trouble or challenge them. They don’t like the effort that goes into preparing for prayer, so they opt for short-cuts of their own devising, and as for a life of virtue! Well, that is but a fetter on a free spirit, is it not? Even worse, in my view, if they aren’t up to this themselves, they spend their lives condemning those who are. Laziness isn’t very nice, but condemning others for their laziness is even less nice (and I can only do it because I am Beyond and love everyone because I have fulfilled my True Nature as a PBGV and am writing this as a kind of latterday Sermo Canis ad Anglos).

So, my friends, may I urge you to take stock a little and see whether you have fallen into the trap of wanting Instant God? Have you become a little lazy in your thinking and doing, a little lazy in your preparations for prayer? You don’t need to become complicated about it. Take a lesson from me and my pals up here. I mentioned the way we stretch out in the sunshine of God’s love. That’s all there is to it, really. No one close to Him wants to be anything other than His joy and delight. Yes, it takes effort, but never was effort more richly rewarded. The results are not instant but they last for eternity. 🙂

Note from Digitalnun
I’m very grateful to Bro Duncan PBGV for blogging today. I’m delighted to say I can now see with one eye but I have a mountain of admin to catch up with and a daunting amount of correspondence, too. Thank you for your prayers and good wishes, all of which have been much appreciated.

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Ascension Day 2019

Forty days ago we began our celebration of Easter. It is not over yet, but today marks a special point. When Jesus ascends into heaven, all earthly limitations fall away. He, our High Priest, now  intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. Today’s readings are all about prayer, and I find in them a huge encouragement, for what is monastic life if not a life of prayer? Our prayer is now united with that of Christ himself and as such has a power and efficacy it would otherwise lack. He is the King of glory, the Lord of creation, the one who makes all things possible.

A personal decision
The reminder that monastic life is first and foremost a life of prayer makes this a good day for a small personal announcement. I have decided to take what I hope will prove a short break from blogging and social media. You do not need to be told that the community and I are praying, although I know many of you appreciate our attempts to share some of our reflections, etc

I have great difficulty reading and writing at present and find I am spending a lot of time on my own spelling mistakes. I know my typos are as irritating to others as they are to me. Under normal circumstances, I’d be glad to be told of errors but having to cut, paste and magnify everything sent to me is irksome and, to be honest, sometimes a little discouraging. So, rather than struggle to read tweets and messages, only to discover they are about my awful typing, I think it makes sense not to provide matter for dispute! I am hoping to have surgery on my eyes in the near future, so I shall be back annoying you — though not with typos, I trust — ere long, D.V. Please continue to use our 24/7 email prayerline for prayer requests and email the monastery about any other matter. Quitenun will do her best to maintain the daily prayer intentions on our Facebook page.

Newsletter
If you did not see our May newsletter (the first for 18 months) you can read it using this link and, better still, subscribe to future issues: https://t.co/X1nHHfQ6CX

Dore Abbey
Finally, I’d like to mention something dear to my heart. We who live in the Golden Valley are privileged to have many fine churches on our doorstep but, like many small rural communities, we struggle to maintain them. Dore Abbey is a wonderful medieval survival badly in need of a new roof. Bro Duncan PBGV used to accompany us to Evensong there (dogs sit with their Human Beans in the pews) so I am sure he would endorse the appeal that has just been launched. I hope some of you will, too. Bless you! https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/doreabbey?utm_term=xnqZ7ndnY&fbclid=IwAR2zbSLvoLbWHMS-DXpmjBzMUpI0-Mn-TQ-DzTl6_blG1A8MaAOn-mOXJsg

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A Nose for Truth

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB investigates
Bro Dyfrig BFdeB investigates

Human beings seem to have more appetite for scandal than for truth. I suppose it is more ‘interesting’. After all, a blameless life is often one in which there is relatively little incident to record, but I do wonder whether our delight in gossip and all its fellows coarsens our sensitivity to the nobler qualities in ourselves and other people. Yesterday, to mark our Foundation Day, we went to Raglan Castle, where our intrepid hound investigated everything with the same obvious delight and enthusiasm. He did not judge; he did not discriminate; he simply followed his nose and registered the various scents and smells with joyful exuberance. We cannot live so simply. We must discriminate; we must discern; but maybe learning to be a little more positive about our experiences, being less judgemental in the censorious sense, would be good for us. I don’t know. A nose for truth is about more than just searching out the less admirable/pleasant aspects of life. What do you think?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Grieving the Loss of a Pet by Bro Duncan PBGV

Bro Duncan PBGV in Desert-Father Mode
Bro Duncan PBGV in Desert-Father Mode

From up here in Beyond we see a lot of sadness down below. Human Beans just don’t seem to be able to get along together for very long. I think that is why God allows us dogs to be your companions. We are not with you for very long, but during the time we are, we make you feel very special. You are everything in the world to us and we like to show it with our waggly tails and little barks. We don’t mind if you are a bit thick, or smelly, or have horrible taste. We just like to be with you, in the same way that God does, because we love you. And, of course, we PBGVs have a huge advantage when it comes to being loved back: we are all floppy ears and whiskers and big black noses which make you smile, even when you don’t feel very smiley on the insides. (Don’t let God know: he doesn’t seem to understand that being pictured with a big white beard on a golden throne isn’t ideal PR). Anyway, Human Beans seem to like the way we are always up to mischief, and even those dogs who are not PBGVs — like that young sprog Bro Dyfrig BFdeB — usually become the besties of those they live with. That is why we leave such a horrible gap when we go.

We bound off into Beyond (no Purgatory for us!) and wait for you to join us. Meanwhile, you are sobbing your hearts out and trying to keep a stiff upper lip and saying things like, ‘He was such a beggar for cheese,’ or, ‘Remember that time he ran off and didn’t come back for five hours?’ and hoping everyone will think you’ve got hay fever or something. Then you torment yourselves thinking that perhaps you didn’t do everything you should for us and forgetting that we have one very special God-like quality: we forgive utterly. Yes, there may have been times when you did not understand that we NEEDED to investigate that pile of horse poo or go after that rabbit, but we forgave you. Or the times when you left us alone. You said it was for five minutes max but we know it was hours and hours and hours, but still, we forgave you. Then, when we got a bit creaky in the joints and the vets’ bills began to mount up, we wanted to say sorry to YOU for all the trouble and expense, but all you could see was the old boy failing a bit and we loved you all the more for not minding that we were now the smelly ones. When, finally, you let us go, we wanted to tell you how much you meant to us and that we’d be waiting by the pearly gates for you, but you had to do your bit and make sure you got there by living a Good Life and maybe a successor dog was what you needed to keep you on the Right Path and not to worry about us, because everything for us is perfect — except that we have to wait for you.

Sometimes I look down from Beyond at BigSis and LittleSis and think what a good job I did in making Them realise the importance of dogs to Human Beans. It’s all right to be tearful and miss us, but we won’t be parted for very long. If you are good, we’ll be together for all eternity. My friend St Dominic (Domini canis . . . hound of the Lord, how cool is that?) says that may not be quite theological but everyone will understand. I like St Dominic. He’s not at all fierce when you get to know him, and we’re having a brilliant party for his feast-day today. I just wish They were here, too.

Love and licks,

Dunc xxFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Mr Trump’s Hair and Other Weighty Matters by Bro Duncan PBGV

Human Beans never cease to surprise me. Up here in Beyond, where all is light, joy and peace, we smile over the preoccupations of Below. The number of column inches devoted to Mr Trump’s hair or the Winter Olympics cheerleaders from North Korea, the fuming and fretting over the government of the day, the feud between Brexiteers and Remainers, it all looks very different from here. So do your preparations for Lent. They are all so very serious! What you really need to do is to learn to be more simple and more dog.

Learning to be simple is natural to us dogs. We have a thought for each paw: food, food, sleep and food. Everyone is our very best friend, and we don’t hold grudges. We live in the moment. BigSis used to say that the sacrament of the present moment is the most neglected of all, and it’s true. You Human Beans are always regretting the past or worrying about the future and ignoring what is right under your noses. You make life complicated and never really enjoy anything because you are too busy having guilt trips. We don’t do guilt. Instead we do joy, lots of it! And our joy is infectious, because it’s impossible to look at our big noses and constantly wagging tails without feeling more cheerful. That’s why God gave them to us, and us to you.

BigSis says that joy is the key to making a good Lent: doing everything with the joy of the Holy Spirit. I asked St Benedict about that and he said she was quite right. Nuns always are. Then he coughed and looked a bit self-conscious and I realised he was thinking about his sister, Scholastica, whose feast day is tomorrow, and who taught the Father of Western Monasticism all about prayer and stuff. So I gave him a big Peeby kiss and looked very understanding until he was himself again. We chaps have to stick together, don’t we? Even Fathers of Western Monasticism have to put up with twin sisters who know and understand some things better than they do.

Anyway, the message to take from all BigSis’s spouting about preparing for Lent is this: Lent is meant to be a time of joyful simplicity when you Human Beans run free on the road to salvation. Of course, some parts of Lent are a bit like doing obedience work, but Easter itself is wonderful. It’s all about banquets and endless food and drink, a foretaste of what you will experience when you get Beyond. St Benedict says you Human Beans should look forward to it with the joy of spiritual longing. If you can’t manage that just yet, take a good look at your nearest dog and try to be more like him. We have the secret of eternal joy. Perhaps that’s why God lets us share his holy name in reverse. Perhaps.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Simple Goodness by Bro Duncan PBGV

From my vantage point in Beyond, I often wonder why Human Beans just don’t get it. They rush around trying to fix what can’t be fixed and become very complicated about things that are really very simple. Take goodness, for example. Dogs understand goodness perfectly. Everyone is our very best friend and to be treated as such. True, we may have a special soft spot for the most hopeless among them, the ones who are always getting things wrong, but we are very delicate in the way we express it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat beside BigSis and gazed at her with my big brown eyes to show sympathy and understanding or trotted along in front of LittleSis, my tail gently waving to reassure her that everything was going to be all right! Even the Ginger Fiend is learning that life isn’t all treats and tummy rubs. We have to be there for Them. Which brings me to my point.

I was asking St Aelred the other day whether there wasn’t a problem with Human Beans misunderstanding his teaching on friendship and stuff. He looked at me very shrewdly and, being a good teacher, asked me what I thought. Well, simples! Human Beans do get him wrong very often. Probably it takes a dog to get to the heart of the matter. Love of others should lead to love of God or it is not real love. My dearest wish is for everyone I knew and loved on earth to be with me in Beyond where we can rejoice with God for ever and ever. That is real love, I have no doubt; and it is very patient, humble and persevering. I know I have a big task ahead of me, but I put my paws together regularly and never lose hope.

Very few now remember much about St Aelred except his love of God and his love of his brethren, and that’s as it should be. Human Beans can learn from that sort of forgetting. It doesn’t matter how handsome or successful we are, how learned or ‘inspiring’, simple goodness — loving others — is what counts. But it must be genuine love of others, not covert manipulation or self-seeking (a bit like some of the Young Sprog’s earlier attempts to win a supernumerary Dentastix. ‘Nuff sed.). I think that’s why we dogs don’t have very long lives by human standards. We learn very quickly to love deeply, constantly and forgivingly. We’re good at simple goodness — thank goodness!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Blogging from Beyond: Hallowe’en by Bro Duncan PBGV

BigSis was telling me the other day that she didn’t want to write about Hallowe’en ever again, so I said I would. After all, Hallowe’en doesn’t happen in Beyond: here it is All Saints all the time, everlasting Easter, and one huge party with enough to eat and drink to satisfy even the hungriest hound. Bliss!

So, where do I start? I have to admit I don’t quite understand you Human Beans and the delight you take in the dark side of life, nor your willingness to spend masses of money on it. Carving pumpkins could be fun, I suppose, though if you’ve ever been hungry, the waste of good food might stir your conscience a little. Plastic skeletons don’t appeal: give me a real bone to chew on any day. I’m not sure I like some of the costumes some of you wear. They don’t scare me — nothing could scare a PBGV — but they do upset me sometimes, especially those that make a mockery of Them. I’m just an old-fashioned gent, I suppose, and always gallant towards the ladies. And as for all that ‘trick or treat’ business, I do wonder if it is quite moral to teach your little pups to extort goodies from others and behave badly if they don’t oblige. We dogs know how to look irresistible but don’t go into a huff if we don’t get a treat. We just try again later. Still, I like to have fun as much as anyone, and if you want to have a party on Hallowe’en, have a good one; and I do mean good. Don’t meddle with things that seem innocent but can lead to things that are anything but. You may think ouija boards and tarot cards are ‘just a bit of a fun’ but, believe me, we have our work cut out up here praying for souls that have been led astray by such things into really serious evil. BigSis will tell you that an encounter with evil — real evil — isn’t fun: it’s deadly. Steer clear of it and you will be much happier.

One of the things I liked about living in the monastery was that Hallowe’en was scarcely noticed. At five o’clock They sing First Vespers of All Saints and then are safely on the other side, where all is light and goodness. They may not hear me, but I shall be adding my own ‘aroo’ to Their chorus of praise and thanksgiving this evening. Happy feast of All Saints to you all!

Love and prayer,

Dunc x

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