It is hard to describe the importance I place on my dog’s presence in the ministry in which I am engaged. Every day but Friday, I take Kai, my black lab, to the office. He is silent – never barks – never growls. Elizabeth Marie, whose office is next to mine, often is shocked to pop her head into my office and notice that Kai has been there all day. He never says a word.
He sleeps a lot. He stares at me a lot. I project onto him a lot.
When people come by the office to drop off a paper or ask a question, Kai moves to the door, hangs his big, fat english lab head over the gate and lets people pet his head. He is a source of great calm in an atmosphere of great anxiety.
The anxiety is no one’s fault really. The church is in an axioms state right now. The Episcopal Church has lost 25% of its members in the last 10 years and that loss will rise exponentially as the great and silent generations die and the boomers age and generations x and y choose spirituality in a different form that that which the church offers. We can be outraged about that if we want to or we can accept it and figure out what to do from here.
As older generations die they are being replaced by younger generations at a rate of 2 new members for every 10 deceased members and only 2 of the ten deceased members are leaving funds to the church in their estate plans, so the church faces de-funding in less than 20 years- one generation. And although we are not much discussing this, the fact that it is silently, slowly happening; is causing institutional anxiety mitigated only by the most centered and spiritually gentle leaders. It is for this reason that I no longer involve myself in church politics at the national level. It is too dangerous. It reminds me of the frantic overcompensating of the Victorians s they began to realize that the British empire was slipping away and taking their way of life with it. Dangerous.
But my dog, Kai is an icon to me in my office. He is always calm. He is always serene. He seems unflappable. He just exists in a peaceful acceptance of what happens next. This is, of course, a very basic spiritual posture long endorsed by the great mystics of the church. This spirit of detachment – of letting go of how things aught to be or how we thing things should be or what angers and resentments we may hold – this detachment is central to a well-lived life. Our Buddhist brothers and sisters have practices which help them to master detachment better than we do in Christianity. And yet detachment is precisely what we see in Jesus who simply moves through life, praying in the early morning, then living life, engaging whomever seems to be present to him (often tax collectors and prostitutes- church rejects) and then letting the Roman and ecclesial machinery move to destroy him on schedule for pushing against the establishment.
It is not that Kai is never disappointed or that Kai is never annoyed or angered. He has those flashes come over his expression-full face. But they flash and are gone. His eyebrows soften, his tail wags and in seconds he is back to being present to a moment which has every potential for being wonderful again.
I want to be like that.