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?

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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 xx

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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.

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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!

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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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The Mystery of Beyond

 

he Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc 'N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission
The Young Duncan: Ch. Soletrader Dunc ‘N Disorderly: Photo © Gavin Robertson, used by permission

Even the most casual reader of this blog will have gathered that I am a bit soppy about dogs, one in particular. Today is the first anniversary of Bro Duncan PBGV’s entry into Beyond. We got on very well, he and I, but this post is not going to be a sentimental trip down memory lane. He was too dignified a dog for that — even though he was a PBGV. No, this is about the mystery of Beyond, from where he confidently continues to blog and tweet, although he sensibly says very little about his present mode of existence.

Dog owners (and for all I know, cat and guinea pig owners) tend to get a little teary when it comes to the death of their old companions. There is much talk of crossing rainbow bridges and running free. I understand that perfectly. We do not want death to be the end. We may have no belief in an afterlife for ourselves, but for our pets, who have given us so much joy in their short lives, there must be something more.

I know the Thomists will disagree and assert that animals do not have souls and therefore their brief existence on earth is all there is, but I prefer to think of the immensity of God and his care for even the smallest of sparrows. Could such a God snuff out for ever and ever the life of a creature who had given and received such love and affection? I rather doubt it. In fact, although I can’t conceive of Beyond in material terms, I have a little private heresy according to which nothing is ever lost or destroyed, although it is necessarily changed. I would like Bro Duncan PBGV to be part of that changed existence, just as I would like the dinosaurs to be. (Imagine! Seeing a live dinosaur for the first time! But I digress.)

Today there are thousands of people in Britain grieving the loss of someone dear to them. Many cannot express their sense of loss save in extravagant gestures and the conventional phrases that reveal their inadequacy as soon as they are uttered. We cannot really mourn, cannot really allow our grief or sadness to be healed, as long as we do not let the mystery of Beyond touch and transform our lives. For me, as a Catholic, there is the pleasant prospect of purgatory and a final purification. I do not have to worry about the immediate prospect of heaven or hell for those I love; and I have the beautiful and meaningful rituals of the Church and of the monastic order to surround the harsh reality of death. They are a huge comfort because they help to make sense of what might otherwise seem to be sheer negativity. They point to what is not yet by proclaiming the value of what is and what has been with an honesty and lack of sentimentality I find refreshing.

For our pets there are no rituals, no solemn ways of acknowledging their going from us, so we make little jokes and cry our hearts out among the tomato plants or try to be ‘frightfully British’ about it all. I like to think that that is part of their gift to us. They make us realise the supreme dignity of being created human, the extraordinary graces bestowed on us by a loving God who has seen in us the lineaments of his Son, Jesus Christ. What I call the mystery of Beyond is something that surrounds us from our first moments of conception. It is our natural environment, so to say. We pass from one degree of glory to another, and although death is painful, it is the gateway to a fuller life and a happiness that has no end. Where Bro Duncan PBGV fits into this, I do not really know, but I am as sure that he is part of it as I am sure that the grass is green beneath my feet and the brilliant blue skies of Herefordshire are over my head.

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Two Hairy Brothers: 5

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
,
Herefordshire

7 July 2017

Dear Cousin Dunc,

I trust you are very cheery up there in Beyond. We don’t seem to have heard from you for a long time. Now I have a problem and need your advice.

I’ve been in a bit of hot water recently. Nothing too serious, but clearly They don’t think much of my eating Their supper (it was yummy!) or burying six bones, one after the other, in the flower-beds, or examining the contents of the waste bin by tipping it all over the floor, etc. They’ve begun referring to you as the Blessed Bro Duncan PBGV and I feel that a comparison is being made. I’m Touri the Terrible, the Ginger Fiend, Our Little Thug. Where am I going wrong? Don’t They love me anymore?

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig xx

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond

9 July, 2017

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

Nice to hear from you, young sprog, and my apology for the delay in replying. An awful lot of PBGVs seem to have come to the Heavenly Houndland recently, and we’ve been having lots of Peeb parties. Great fun!

As to your problem, oh dear! I think we have got to get a few things straight or you may go seriously wrong. Nothing will ever change Their love for you, absolutely nothing. I’m sure They call you Touri the Terrible or Little Thug in an affectionate tone of voice. Yes, They will get exasperated if you eat Their supper or dig up all the flowers or empty out smelly waste-bins and whatever else is implied by that ‘etc’ of yours. Human Beans are like that. But They are like our Heavenly Master in this respect. They know that we are the apple of His eye, and so we are of Theirs. The problem They have is They can go all gooey and forgiving when They see our big noses and hairy whiskers, but They are much harder on Their own kind. They tend not to forgive but only put others on probation: ‘do that once more and . . . .’ It is our job to help Them see They’ve got to be kind to those who aren’t blessed with four paws and eyes like melting chocolate buttons. We have to help Them become more dog, in fact, and love everyone — even the most trying.

Of course, I have to admit that eating Their supper is not a very good idea. I never did that, though I did share some goodies — mainly cheese and bikkies, as I recall. But I never stole them. You need to learn the art of staring reproachfully at Them, so that They give in and share with you. Human Beans do something similar when They pray. They stare at God (They call it ‘contemplation’) and He responds — not always in the way They’d like, of course, but He doesn’t ignore Them. I don’t really understand how They get away with it, not being as handsome or hairy as we are. It is all a great mystery, and I am content to leave it like that. I just know it works. Encourage Them in that.

Well, young sprog, I’ve got another party to go to. You’ll love it up here. Nothing but eating and merry-making all day long. Sheer Peeby bliss! And there’s a special spot for Fauves — and Human Beans — too.

Your affectionate old cousin,

Duncan

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Getting Down to Earth by Bro Duncan PBGV

This is my first blog post from Beyond. BigSis asked me to do one while she and the young sprog enjoy a protracted convalescence. There’s not much wrong with Bro Dyfrig BFdeB, by the way, he just likes lazing on the guest sofa, but I’m always happy to give a helping paw when I can; and I must admit, I do like the sound of my own voice which, as the breed standard says, is freely used. So, listen up, please.

It seems to me that Human Beans are getting worked up about all kinds of things at the moment: Brexit, the Trump administration, Mr Putin, Amoris Laetitia, refugees — you name it, you worry about it. Worry is not good for Human Beans. It gives you wrinkles and grey hairs and makes you very, very bad-tempered. Friends suddenly become foes, and you smoulder with barely-suppressed rage as the mildest comment is interpreted as criticism or betrayal. I’ve tried to suggest in the past that life would be much nicer for you all if you tried being more dog, but since you don’t seem to be able to agree on that, may I suggest that it is time you got down to earth and worried about something worthwhile: vegetable rationing. Yes, vegetable rationing.

According to the BBC, floods in Spain mean that there is, and will continue to be, a shortage of many of your favourite vegetables. Supermarkets are rationing broccoli and iceberg lettuce (why anyone should want to eat either is beyond me, but Human Beans are funny like that). Now, this isn’t just a simple supply and demand problem such as BigSis likes to pontificate about when she puts her ex-banker cap on, it is a Big Problem with metaphysical dimensions to it. You could call it the salad and civics question of our time, but however you like to dress it up, it is a question you need to address urgently.

You Human Beans like to think you can go it alone in so many ways. Yes, you will be a great nation; you will be lords of all creation; everything will be tickety-boo when the world is refashioned according to your own ideas, or so you say. But you forget something very basic. You have to eat. And if you don’t grow all your own food, you have to rely on others, which means trade and mutual give and take and perhaps having Human Beans from other countries doing some of the things that you can’t or won’t do for yourself. Even if you are remarkably self-sufficient now, the time will come when you are old or sick and you will HAVE to rely on others. My advice, therefore, is to think about these things now, and instead of worrying about a future that may never come or indulging in fantasies of grandeur and self-sufficiency, to live in the present, humbly and in touch with the reality you yourself can help shape and form. What you do now matters. How you treat other Human Beans matters. In fact, you really should try being more like us dogs — more loving, more compassionate, more down to earth.

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Two Hairy Brothers: 4

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
,
Herefordshire

30 December 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

BigSis says that, if I’m good and stop chewing my sore paw, she’ll let me do the blog tomorrow. Trouble is, I haven’t many thoughts in my head other than the usual — food, sleep and walks. Can you advise?

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig xx

P.S. I bet Christmas in Beyond was . . . heavenly.

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond

30 December 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

You’re obviously coming on by leaps and bounds, young sprog. My literary career didn’t begin until I was quite mature; but I’m sure you’ll make a good blogger in time. As to advice, well, it is the end of the year and human beans tend to get silly and sentimental, especially if they’ve had too much to drink. Perhaps you could say something about being determined to make 2017 a better year for everybody? Keep it simple and they’ll lap it up.

Your affectionate old cousin,

Duncan

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
,
Herefordshire

31 December 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

Thank you for your advice. I lay awake in my basket all night long thinking about what I should say today — and then, pow!, it hit me. I should write about what I know best. I know I think about food, sleep and walks most of the time, but I realise that I always think about them with gratitude. P’raps what human beans need is more gratitude and fewer grumbles, then they would be happier — just like you and me, in fact.

So, I thought about saying that, as 2016 comes to an end, instead of moaning and groaning about everything that went wrong and all the disappointments the old year held, we could say thank you for all the things that went right: for the times we got up and the sun was shining, and our paws weren’t sore, and our food bowls were full, and someone gave us a tummy rub or whatever the human bean equivalent is, and life was wonderful because it is life and is to be treasured, every single moment of it. And I thought I could add that even the difficult bits can be O.K. I was very sad to leave my old home in Wallingford, but the monastery isn’t too bad and BigSis and LittleSis do everything They can to make sure I’m happy.

Then I thought some more (it was a long night) and decided I could remind human beans that dogs don’t keep a score of wrongs done (we’re a bit like our Heavenly Master in that respect) and they could try to make peace with those they’ve hurt or let down and begin the New Year with joy and gladness and a dogged determination to try to be kinder and more generous to everyone. That’s much better than making resolutions about losing weight or learning Swahili, and possibly harder, too.

Finally, I thought about the advice you gave me when I was professed: to be myself, but to be my best self. The more I think about it, the more true I realise it is. I think you are the wisest dog I know, Cousin Dunc; and I will try to follow your advice in 2017.

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig xx

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Two Hairy Brothers: 3

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
Herefordshire

Feast of St Dyfrig 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

Sorry I’m a bit late telling you all about my profession on 11 November, but I’ve been very busy being good and keeping the squirrels out of the garden and today’s been a bit hectic, what with being my feast-day and all that.

It was a lovely day: They chose the feast specially because St Martin was French and very brave, just like me, and shared his coat with a poor man, just as I shed mine all over Them when I get excited. Bro Eric was there to give me some fellow male support, which was nice because he thought about giving me chicken for dinner and other nice things as well. It’s very hard being the only chap in a monastery of nuns sometimes, but you understand that.

The ceremony was quite short. First of all, BigSis asked me if I were happy (yes), and whether I’d eat and sleep as taught by the Rule (yes), and occasionally obey the orders given me (definite maybe on that one: They have to obey all the time, so, you see, it pays to be a dog), and then she went on to mention something about the chicken for my dinner; so after that I kept totes quiet and just looked eager. I was then dressed in the clothing of the monastery as it says in the Rule, and got my St Benedict’s medal and leather collar; and then we had a little party. Here are some photos of the event.

First, this is me paying close attention to that mention of chicken for dinner:

Bro Dyfrig listens to the prioress

Then, here’s Bro Eric giving me some encouragement because I did have a nervous moment about what I might be letting myself in for:
buddies

And then you see the shiny new medal that shows I am a Frater Dilectissimus (Beloved Brother) of the community for ever and ever. I’ll send you one of my leather collar, but that’s less interesting than the medal, which came all the way from Monte Cassino.

Bro Dyfrig displays his St Benedict medal

Now, of course, it’s back to normal; but I think I like normal. You can’t have chicken every day, can you; but you can have kibble — and be grateful.

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond
14 November, 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

I was very pleased to hear from you, young sprog, and know that you are now a permanent member of the community. Enjoy your feast day, but don’t forget that this is when it all begins. You’ve had the big ceremony and the chicken and the fuss-making, now you’ve got to work at being a good monastic dog, just as Human Beans have to work at marriage after they’ve had the wedding ceremony. The eating and sleeping isn’t difficult, but you’ll have to try harder to steer clear of the allurements of the guest sofa and learn how to fulfil all your duties cheerfully and more or less on time. Those famous cloth ears of yours may need a bit of attention — you’re a Fauve, not a PBGV, after all..

Brave as you are, you will have to be ready to greet everyone in a friendly fashion — you may even have to be nice to the squirrels occasionally; but not cats, definitely not cats in the enclosure. Heroic canine virtue does not stretch that far, so you can relax on that score.

Your main role will be ‘meeter and greeter’ or what St Benedict calls the porter of the monastery. Being the ‘wise old man at the door of the monastery’ is a great responsibility; but I know you’ll give it your best. Just go on being you and you won’t go far wrong. Give my love to Them.

Your devoted old cousin,

Bro Duncan PBGV

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