This is kai-the-dog. He goes where I go but mostly he sleeps or naps or lays there watching me to be sure I am ok. He hates to have his picture taken -looks off as if to be sure to disincline the photographer of taking the picture. I am his paparazzi.
But Kai-the-dog is a good cuddler. He spoons like an olympic champion. Each morning he wakes me up by climbing stealthily like a cat-burglar climbing a wall, up onto the pillows by my head. When he hears my breathing shift to wakefulness, he begins to methodically lick my head. It is his way of kissing me awake into a new day.
When he does this he places one paw above my head on the pillow and another on my neck or shoulder so that he is perfectly positioned to perform his ablutions. I will usually let this happen and then slowly rise to begin my day. Often I will reach out to pat his head as he does his healing work but sometimes I miss, in the dark and accidentally touch his paw. If I touch his paw he flinches. It is an entire body-shudder and it only happens at the first touch. After that I can hold or massage his paw and with no reaction. But the touch of his paw causes a primordial auto-reflex alert.
People who know such things tell me that dogs know that their paws are their life. If they can walk and run they can eat and defend themselves. So they have developed a deep and reflexive sensitivity to being touched on a paw because they need to protect their paws for survival. We are told by Holocaust survivors that the most important tool for survival in the camps were shoes. If you had shoes you could protect feet from infection. Loose your shoes and you would loose your life. Same same.
I can’t help but wonder about this. It feels like we humans have a spiritual spot which is like the dog’s paw or the human foot…sensitive, tender, easily triggered because of so many alert-nerve-endings. We have, inside us, a spot which humans and which God can “touch” which triggers us. A smell, a taste, a sound, a touch, a remembrance, an awareness, a kind word or an unkind word, a kind act or an act of violence – we have a tender spot inside us which responds to “touch” like Kai-the-dog responds to his paw being touched – a nervous auto-response implanted inside us to allow us to respond to a spiritual “touch.”
We like God to touch us there. We like friends and lovers and beauty to touch us there. And when someone who loves us touches us there they suddenly have power – they can wound us deeply because they know what to touch and can betray us by touching our psyche where it is most sensitive. That is why betrayal is such a particular kind of pain.
When Kai-the-dog licks my head in the darkness of early morning he is blessing me the way we have been taught that clergy can bless us with a touch. As I age, I am finding that I can depend on the former blessing – not so much the later. God touches us in liturgy I suppose, but I no longer believe that sacraments are the only way God touches our most sensitive spots. Some say that if I believe that, I should leave the church. Perhaps. But the numbers who are leaving the church by simply not joining it are quietly starving it of its oils and vestments.
Our society is changing and the changes are making church treasurers very nervous when they work with their actuarial tables. But at the same time, when I speak to young people they tell me of their “paw spot” that God touches sometimes. That people they love touch sometimes. They tell me of the blessing of it. A gentle house-church experience – a sunset – a walk in the woods – a chat with a close friend – a foot massage -a morning meditation: these “paw spots” people find soothing, healing and God-bearing.
And this is the problem…the spot which is our source of life can be blessed or wounded. God will never wound it but God will reach for it every time. Our work is to accept the benefit of flinching – the survival reality of it – the way Kai does when his paw is touched unawares. And our work is to guard it from danger while offering it to blessing and loving touch by a God always reaching out a finger. Always. Always.