Two Hairy Brothers: 1

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB asks advice
Bro Dyfrig BFdeB asks advice

Howton Grove Priory
Herefordshire
14 August 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

Here I am at the monastery, all shiny and new-looking. Thank you for your good advice and encouragement. I know you thought long and hard about my future and where I’d become my Truest and Happiest Self.

I spent a few days in the guest quarters, as required by the Rule, but on Sunday, the Solemnity of the Assumption, I was admitted to the novitiate and given the name Bro Dyfrig BFdeB. There was a nice little ceremony and a piece of chicken afterwards by way of celebration. I have a pleasant bunk on the ground floor. The bed is comfy, and the water-bowl is a Treasured Relic of yours which, I must say, is rather splendid. Life is austere, but not too bad for an adaptable fellow like me.

I thought at first they would welcome my leadership skills, but apparently not. Here I trot through doors last; and when I attempted to rest my weary limbs on the guest sofa, I was very quickly shown the error of my ways! Do be a kind chap, and give me a few pointers about how to survive and flourish in the cloister.

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

P.S. I haven’t been allowed into choir yet. Something about ‘wait and see how he gets on.’

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond
15 August 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

How nice to be able to call you that at last! I am delighted to know you are safely admitted to the novitiate. It took some organizing at HQ, I can tell you, what with St Thomas Aquinas in a huff about dogs going to heaven and St Jerome urging pet lions and St Francis wanting a whole menagerie of all kinds of beasts and birds. Thankfully, St Clare argued in favour of a single hound (you), then St Bernard helped out by recalling how he encouraged lots of his relatives to join Cîteaux and BigSis is rather a fan of his, while St Benedict just smiled a wise smile and had a quiet word with Our Lady. I think Our Lady has a soft spot for dogs. At any rate, after St Benedict spoke to her, there was a little bit of Private Conversation between her and her Son and, lo and behold, there you are!

The best advice I can give you is to follow what is written in the Rule regarding novices — eat, sleep and meditate. If you eat, They will know you are happy; if you sleep, They will know you have found the place you are meant to be; and if you meditate, you will have something to share with Them and Their followers. It’s easy-peasy really.

Of course, some things will be hard, especially at the beginning. I was always a gentleman, so allowing ladies first came naturally to me. You will just have to learn not to rush forward all the time — and choosing the highest, comfiest seat is a definite no-no. Human Beans worry and fret about silly things like status and want to demonstrate how grand they are by the things they possess or by being given a higher place at table or a ‘superior’ rank or title. You don’t have to worry about any of that. You’re a dog; your place in the Kingdom is assured. All you have to do is be the best dog you can, which means being yourself and giving glory to God just as you are.

As for the rest, you’ll find They talk a lot about perseverance in the novitiate, but I think it all boils down to sheer doggedness — and you have that in spades.

I shall be keeping an eye on you, young sprog. Don’t let me down.

Your affectionate old cousin,

Bro Duncan PBGV

P.S. Don’t worry about choir just yet. Concentrate on the basics, one for each paw — eat, sleep, meditate, and eat again, of course. That chicken is a good sign: make the most of it. It won’t happen often, believe me.

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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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Things My Dog Has Taught Me

The monastery dog in helpful mood
Bro Duncan PBGV being ‘helpful’

Bro Duncan PBGV is not actually my dog, but we’ll let that pass. In the years he has lived with us he has taught me to

  • be very ‘helpful’ at all times
  • eat everything in sight and whatever can be accessed out of sight
  • treat everyone as my very best friend (vets excepted)
  • regard every day as a new adventure
  • be myself.

Of these five things, the most important is the last. Being oneself, being honest about one’s strengths and weaknesses, acting in accordance with one’s nature, does not mean carte blanche to do anything one likes, but it does mean there should be no pretended virtue, no hypocrisy. To live truthfully is not easy, but it makes for joy and happiness. I envy Bro Duncan’s uncomplicated life at times, but although my life is considerably more complicated, it can still have the same joyful quality. Monastic life has a way of peeling off layer after layer of the self we construct and eventually revealing the person God made. That is why, if you will allow me an atrocious pun, sheer doggedness is needed. It is the work of a lifetime.

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