A Little Silliness

The British tend to be sentimental about animals. They allow us to unbend our proverbial stiff upper lips and say affectionate things to them we would never dream of saying to any human being. They hear our confessions long before we enter the confessional; they welcome us home when we return at ungodly hours; they put up with our moods and never, ever hold a grudge for more than about ten seconds. In short, they are pretty good at showing us how to live a good life, with everyone our very best friend. (They also teach us to eat everything in sight, but that is a more doubtful quality.)

Today we are celebrating the thirteenth birthday of iBenedictines’ co-blogger, Bro Duncan PBGV (a.k.a. Champion Soletrader Dunc ’n Disorderly,) with a virtual Birthday Tea-Party at 4.00 p.m. It is pure silliness, but sometimes a little silliness can show us what really matters. To be kind, to be generous, to be friendly, to be loyal, these are not spectacular qualities and they will never make us rich or famous; but they may make us people it is good to know. They may even help make us into the people God intended us to be, and that is not silly at all.

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The Importance of Sheer Doggedness by Bro Duncan PBGV

Just occasionally I have to remind Them of the importance of sheer doggedness. They tend to call it ‘perseverance’, but whatever. It’s the same idea, stolen from us dogs, of course, only we do it better. Sticking at something and not giving up is sometimes hard for humans. They want to find reasons for doing things (which usually means reasons for not doing things) and sometimes there aren’t any. The world is like that, I tell Them. We get up, we eat, we sleep, we praise God; and life goes on. The important thing is that we try. We often think we fail when in fact we don’t. That comes of our having our eyes on ourselves all the time, as though we were engaged in taking a perpetual selfie. Or because we have become impossibly perfectionist. I always say, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly — if that’s the best we can manage.

I’ll let you into a little secret. They are not really singers, but They plug away at the Divine Office day after day, singing the praises of God to the best of Their ability which, to be frank, isn’t great. I snooze along beside Them, so together we give glory to God. We don’t do anything exceptional, any of us, — we’re too ordinary for that — but we go on . . . relentlessly. I’m rather hoping we’ll all sneak into heaven that way.

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Easter Thursday by Bro Duncan PBGV

Today’s gospel (Luke 24.35–48) is one I love. Humans get lost in the wonder of it all: Jesus suddenly appearing, standing among the disciples and showing them the wounds in his hands and his feet. It is all joy and gladness, shimmering light and peaceful beauty. For us dogs it is all about eating. Jesus eats a piece of grilled fish (yum, yum) to prove he is not a ghost. I prove I’m not a ghost every chance I get, but there is clearly something special about Jesus’ eating that piece of fish, and I think I know what it is — because I’m a dog and not an intellectual, so I don’t need to get complicated about these things.

The most sacred ritual Catholics take part in is the Eucharist, and every meal they eat contains echoes or reflections of that. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and God is disclosed through the act of eating and drinking. That is quite wonderful and special. The spiritual and the physical are inseparably united. Even us dogs recognize the holiness of eating, the sharing of life, and in today’s gospel we see Jesus demonstrating that fact to the disciples. Some people are so holy (sic) they think they have to get rid of the bodily in order to be spiritual, but here is the Risen Christ celebrating the holiness of the body and his own bodyliness by eating. BigSis calls it the grilled fish test. It’s one I’ll happily take any time.

Apologies to all those who don’t like a dog discussing these mysteries.

Love

Dunc xx

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How I Got My PBGV by Bro Duncan PBGV

Yesterday was the feast of Saints Maurus and Placid, and in our community it’s the day when the novices are allowed to run riot (with all due monastic restraint, of course). As we don’t have any novices at present, I generously offered my services and did a bit of tail-chasing and bikkie-scrounging in the hope of catching Them off-guard. It helped that They were distracted by builders. Eventually, I got my opportunity, pinned BigSis to the ground and threatened to lick her to death if she didn’t let me blog today. She gave way easily enough and mumbled something about a little nonsense not hurting anyone and perhaps if readers persevered to the end they’d find a message somewhere. Sooooooo, I thought I’d tell you about my PBGV.

I am often asked what PBGV stands for. It is the name of my breed: Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen. What that means in English is that I am a small(ish), rough-coated hound from the Vendée, the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west-central France. You can read about our aimiable characteristics here and see a photo of my grand-daughter, Jilly, into the bargain.

For much of my monastic life, I was just Bro Duncan, the wise old man stationed by the door of the monastery who welcomed guests and did a quick check for contraband bikkies, etc. I didn’t have any letters after my name. Then the light dawned. Everybody has letters after their names these days! In the name of equality for dogs, therefore, we should, too. I suggested that adding PBGV to Bro Duncan would be quite distinguished and would lead to lots of interesting speculation about which Order I belong to. They were not keen at first and said all sorts of unhelpful things like, ‘You’re a Benedictine dog. We don’t put letters after our names. We leave that to the modern Orders.’ and ‘Don’t you think you’re a tad small to carry such a lengthy addition to your name?’

I was stung. I drew myself up to my full fifteen and a half inches at the shoulder and said, with all the dignity of my breed, that I was being discriminated against. It was my canine right to have letters after my name. I got nowhere. So I changed tactics and started to argue that it would be a delicious joke against humans and the ridiculous things they value — possessions and status and absurdities like that. I kept at it with all the tenacity for which my breed is famous. Then came my crunch argument: God looks at the heart, not the outward show; and although I think He must have had fun when He created me, all whiskers and big ears, I think I please Him best by being loving and kind to all whom I meet. He gave me a good heart, worth infinitely more than any honour or distinction. I am a very doggy dog, a happy hound, I cheer people up. They crumpled at that. They admitted that I am very friendly and treat everyone with the same doggy kindness, so perhaps a PBGV would be justified. Result!

And that, my friends, is how I have been Bro Duncan PBGV ever since.

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Be More Dog by Bro Duncan PBGV

I was snoozing quietly in my basket the other day when I overheard Them discussing an opinion voiced by Pope Francis. Apparently, he was comforting a little chap who’d just lost his best (doggy) friend. Our pets go to paradise, said the pope. Immediately, a storm broke out all over t’internet, with some arguing along with Aquinas that dogs don’t have souls so can’t go to heaven and the pope is a heretic and deserves to roast in the fires of hell, and others asserting equally roundly that the pope should define it as an article of faith that dogs do go to heaven as they often live better lives than humans do. I’m not sure where My Lot stand. They tend to get all theological and invoke words like ‘mystery’ and ‘transcendent reality’ and add lots of qualifiers and stuff.

Of course, it is all quite simple, really. Dogs were created so humans could learn the importance of values like love and fidelity, which they are not always good at. We teach little humans important things like eating everything on their plates and sleeping soundly wherever they happen to be. We teach old humans they are infinitely loveable and delightful to be with. We teach the middle-aged ones the importance of fresh air and  exercise, and you’re never too creaky to have fun. I don’t know about heaven up above, but I do know that humans could make life on earth a bit more heavenly if they all tried to be more dog — live in the moment, and be grateful for everything. That’s not a bad message for Advent, is it? Be More Dog.

🙂

Love,

Dunc xx

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Bro Duncan PBGV Speaks His Mind

Leaving aside the snarky remark one of Them made, to the effect that I don’t have a mind, just two brain cells to deal with the important questions of food and sleep, I think it’s time I gave you my perspective on world events. After all, although I live in a monastery, I’m not ‘cloistered’ in the way most people use that word, and with my senses ever on the alert for prospective food supplies (postman, visitors, etc), I think I can safely say I am well up on what is happening.

It is quite clear that the world is going to the cats. Those who are not slumped in front of television sets watching some ball game called the World Cup are out and about murdering one another. When I asked BigSis what she thought about the Middle East, she looked grave and said from North Africa to Iraq, there is trouble. Israelis and Palestinians are fighting one another and may soon plunge the whole region (and perhaps the West, too) into all-out war. There is a credible report that ISIS has obtained 40Kg of radioactive material that could be made into bombs. If you look further afield, the continent of Africa isn’t doing so well, either. There is a darkness in Nigeria and the Central African Republic that makes people live in fear.

To me, all this is rather strange. I don’t understand why humans can’t live peaceably with one another. I bark at Rusty, a Ginger Tom who visits my place occasionally, but only when he’s outside and I’m inside. If we meet on the path, we give each other a wide berth. I respect him; he respects me. We have learned that it isn’t worth getting into a scrap. Why can’t humans do the same? After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that it has to do with memory. Humans won’t let go of their history. When I said this to BigSis she said she would want to nuance that statement (a polite way of disagreeing with me, I think: she can be ever so diplomatic when she tries). She said that humans are often reluctant to let go of a particular version of their history, one that validates whatever position they have taken up in the present. So, for example, both Palestinians and Israelis see themselves as victims and, to some extent, have grounds for thinking that. But it’s not the whole truth, and unless or until someone can break the mould and do something far braver than shooting at one another, conflict will continue.

I suppose that may be so. As a small hound, I know I can’t do much except show forgiveness and tolerance in my daily life and put my paws together for others. But doing the little I can is important. Big changes begin with small ones.

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A Light-Hearted Plea to the Godly

Have you noticed, as I have, a certain tendency among the godly to use Latin where plain English would be much better, and often, alas, using it incorrectly? I don’t mind people coming up to me and saying, ‘Salve!’ (though ‘hello’ would do just as well). I do wince if they say, ‘Salvete!’ as though my name were legion; while greeting me with an ‘Ave!’ makes me tremble in my socks, for reasons they are probably blissfully unaware of. But being wished a happy birthday ‘ad multis annos’ sets my teeth on edge, and the muddling of genders and case endings in other phrases induces apoplexy, especially when I see them on Twitter and Facebook. Latin is a beautiful language, and deserves to be used intelligently. I don’t quite share Christine Morhrmann’s view that it is the perfect liturgical language (Greek would always get my vote), but it is for me the language of prayer, of poetry and history, and I’m very glad I was taught to read, write and speak* it at an early age. It has made me realise what I don’t know — always a good reason for sticking to English, and even there I sometimes have problems, as the comments section of this blog will testify (sigh).

My simple rule is this: avoid Latin tags if you can, but if you must use them, make sure you’ve got them right. Otherwise, as Bro Duncan PBGV was heard to say this morning, Cave monialem!

*Yes, reader, I was taught to speak Latin by a Spanish Latin mistress who gave her classes in Latin from start to finish. I couldn’t manage it now.

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Forgiveness: Another Post by Bro Duncan PBGV

Last night I stayed up to welcome BigSis home after her return from York. I thought it was very sneaky of her to leave on Monday morning while I was having my post-brekkie nap, so I intended to do a dignified but distant kind of welcome, the sort that says, ‘I forgive you’ but means, ‘I’m putting you on probation: don’t you DARE do that again, or else!’ Well, you know me, once she walked through the door, my tail went into orbit (so much for dignified) and though I did manage to look soulful (my default look), I forgot about the distant bit. Then she said, ‘Hello, old rat-bag. Am I forgiven then?’ and something I didn’t quite understand about how there is joy among the angels when a sinner repents and is reconciled to God, which I think means that forgiveness is really rather wonderful and transforms everything, and my waggly tail is a good image of the sheer joy there is in heaven when humans come to their senses and are reconciled with God and one another; and then there was something about how stupid humans are to store up resentments, which is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die. I forget the rest, ‘cos I was really just pleased to have her back, but don’t tell her or she will become proud, and that is not good for her humility, not good at all.

I think I might do less of the dignified and distant in future and settle for forgiveness, plain and simple. It’s more fun, and if you try it, you may get a surreptitious bikkie or two like me.

Love,
Dunc xx

P.S. BigSis (Digitalnun) says I’m to get off her keyboard NOW. She will be blogging tomorrow.

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How to Be a Friend by Bro Duncan PBGV

BigSis (a.k.a. Digitalnun) is speeding towards York for a conference, so I have commandeered the keyboard. Please don’t tell on me, ‘cos she may think I’ve been taking liberties. I take them all the time, in fact, but she doesn’t realise: she just thinks it’s my doggy nature . . .

Dogs are often described as ‘man’s best friend’, which is true, but I sometimes think you humans haven’t got a clue about friendship and what it really means. You always seem to be looking for something in return. Your friendship is often just a sophisticated kind of cup-board love, which is what you accuse us of. How often do you see on Facebook some post saying ‘we’ll see who actually reads this’, and you get to the end and there’s something or other about you won’t be friends any more if you don’t post this to your own timeline. Kibble and cats! You humans need to be more like us dogs. If you are friends with someone, you ask nothing in return except to be a friend; and being a friend isn’t difficult. You don’t need to give lots of bikkies (though I must admit, I’m always glad when a few come my way); you don’t need to lavish lots of ‘quality time’ on your friend (I’m happy just to be in my basket when They are around); you don’t need to murmur sweet nothings (I don’t mind being called ‘you old rat-bag’, honest I don’t: it’s the tone that matters); you just have to be ready to love them.

Call me quixotic if you like, but I am thinking of starting a New Movement for the Advancement of Canine Values. Friendship will be top of the list. I wonder how you humans measure up to us dogs, eh?

Love,

Dunc xx

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A Guest Post by Bro Duncan PBGV

In due place to forget one’s wisdom is sweet, says Horace, so I have prevailed upon Digitalnun to allow me a guest post on her blog. I think the snow has addled her wits (not that she has many) because she agreed without demur. Of course, it could just be that she wants a little holiday from blogging. You can’t tell with nuns. They keep things under their wimple and look at one over the tops of their spectacles in a quizzical way. It’s terribly ham, but what can one expect? They never go to the theatre or watch a good film.

Anyway, back to my favourite subject, me. I joined the community at the same age as St Bede, viz. five years old, on my return from Sweden, where I had been sent on a missionary journey of sorts. My year in Sweden taught me a great deal about snow and ice, for both of which I have an affection, but also reinforced in me the desire for a more solitary, monastic existence. My people knew I would never again be happy in their kennel, for I had known the delights of woodburning stoves and forest walks. Happily, they had just received an enquiry from some nuns wanting a male dog as companion to one of their older community members who was becoming housebound. It was impressed upon me that this would be no sinecure. I would be the monastic porter, the wise old man at the door of the monastery, whose duty it is to welcome everyone; and though I would have a comfortable bed to sleep in because of my age, I could not expect any ‘spoiling’. Fortunately, I have a soft spot for the ladies, so I leaped at the chance.

I have many wonderful children and grandchildren, including the fabulous Jilly (reserve Best in Show at Crufts last year and this year’s Top Dog All Breeds — she takes after me, obviously), but was becoming less and less attracted by the endless round of shows and ‘engagements’ elsewhere. I had had enough of fame. Now I desired stability, a regular routine and the comfort of the same fireside. The monastery gave me what I craved. I soon discovered a genuine taste for religion, especially since it meant I could stretch out on the only comfortable rug in the house (the one in front of the altar) while they chanted the Divine Office. I resented being booted out for Mass but found compensation in the library with a fire and supplementary biscuit or two. I don’t know much about the Song of Songs, but, apparently, one look from my kohl-rimmed eyes would melt the sternest heart. Guests would plead for me, and the nuns would give in!

To my great joy, we moved to Hereford last year and now, not only do I have some beautiful country to roam over, I have a woodburning stove to lie in front of when the weather is foul. My nuns are well-trained and know exactly how I like my kibble and chicken-and-rice when my digestion is a bit sensitive. (Don’t forget, I am of French origin: I won’t eat anything tinned, sacre bleu!) There were a few little problems about managing to get my bed placed where I wanted, but by dint of stretching myself outside Digitalnun’s doorway for a few nights, I achieved my aim. Whether it was my paw or the hand of another (allegedly, Quietnun) that opened the door, I shall not say. It is enough that I’m allowed a spot all my own, right by the radiator.

I am ten now and have been with the nuns five years. My life has all the serenity one would associate with the cloister. I am very quiet, except when I give tongue (that’s houndspeak for the lovely basset profundo which is my natural note). I eat well and enjoy much freedom on this side of the grille, so to say. I give a superb example of humility to all (not difficult with legs my size) and spend much of my time with my eyes closed, meditating on the Four Last Things: supper, walkies, tummy tickle and bed. I am a good example of the alternative name for my breed: the Happy Hound. In short, I am Duncan, the monastery PBGV, a smalle hounde, such as Chaucer wrote about, but a true monk at heart, one who demonstrates the truth of the words, Ego dormio, sed cor meum vigilat. (I sleep, but my heart keeps watch.)

Ego dormio, sed cor meum vigilat: Bro Duncan PBGV meditating
Ego dormio, sed cor meum vigilat: Bro Duncan PBGV meditating
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