Clues from a Canine
While many have said the burning question in the human heart is: “Why am I here?” I believe the question is not quite that vague. If we can agree that life is a journey, I see us sort of like dogs who have been plucked down hundreds or even thousands of miles from our home and would like nothing more than to find our way back.
What is the purpose of this journey that can feel both grand and banal, both exciting and exhausting, both important and quite ordinary? Could it simply be to find out where we belong? Perhaps we can draw some lessons from our four-legged friends.
Let’s consider our hound.
Tireless he runs with his nose to the ground. Now there’s a sense he can count on. He knows the smell of home. He gathers clues. He must somehow rule out what smells right and what smells wrong.
As a very new puppy owner, I ventured out with our little beagle. We had only had her a few days and I decided to take her a couple of blocks from the house on a path in the woods. Because she was so little, I didn’t even leash her. Within the blink of an eye, she got out of my sight. I called and looked for her until I was exhausted. She was nowhere to be found. How could I go home and tell the kids I lost the puppy? As I walked through the door with my head hung low, who should come running up to me? It was our little beagle who had wandered back home, gone to the sliding door in the back of the house and been let in by her family.
She was so glad I made it home. Her little body shook uncontrollably. So did mine.
We both had returned to where we belong. She used her nose but what do we humans count on to guide us?
Basically, people are vision oriented. Love at first sight and all that jazz. Tell me, can you spot a crook? A murderer? A spouse abuser? So, we have to rule the eyes out – not completely, mind you – but we need more for the whole picture.
Feelings, both internal and external, give us our next chunk of feedback. When the sun is shining and our belly’s satiated, life feels worthwhile. We’re on the right track. But isn’t it the struggles and challenges in life that provide the most sense of accomplishment? If we are asking what is the purpose of this journey - just like any good story that you read – it’s made more meaningful by overcoming the odds, though it might not feel good in the moment.
Hearing, now there’s a sense that can alter our direction. Teens run from screaming parents, husbands from nagging wives, mother’s from blaring music or crying babies; you name it. And what of silence – not moments spent in reflective meditation – but lonely, empty walls. According to a Harvard University research report: “36 percent of Americans are experiencing ‘serious loneliness,’ and some groups, such as young adults and mothers with small children are especially isolated.” It has long been known that older adults suffer from isolation and loneliness and now with the COVID pandemic and social distancing the problem is becoming more widespread.
It is hard to belong when we don’t or can’t hear words of affirmation. The spoken word holds incredible power. The tone and familiarity draw us more than we may realize. In some recesses of my soul, I can still hear my mother’s voice call my childhood name “Cindy” and it somehow reassures me, connects me, helps me.
Taste and smell have their place, too, in helping us decide our preferences, but if we are going to find our way home, like our hound, we need something reliable to rule out what is right and what is wrong. Researchers differ on whether it is one specific smell, using visuals clues as well, or following some unseen magnetic field that allows dogs to track their way home from great distances, but one thing is for sure. They trust that one thing.
So, if our five human senses don’t give the full picture, is there another sense that we can trust and follow? Yes!
Interestingly, the young woman born in 1880, who became blind and deaf shortly thereafter, Helen Keller said: “I thank God for my handicaps for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.”
This woman found more than just the “why” of life, she found her purpose – with NO way to hear and NO way to see. Anyone familiar with her story knows that she had a dedicated teacher. A guide to patiently show her how to find her way out of the darkness that could have easily enveloped her.
We, too, have a guide.
I know the Bible gets drowned out in today’s technologically advanced society. We are too busy with too many friends and likes, to stop and read about the one who promises a father who will never leave or forsake us; a shepherd who would leave the 99 sheep to find the lost one; a holy helper who will make known to us the mysteries of God’s heart. Did you know that the word for “spirit” is the Greek word, pneuma? It literally means “the wind or breath.”
Have you ever thought that the breath of God is more than just the air in our lungs? It is literally the sense of direction that we are looking for. Scriptures gives the Holy “Spirit” several names: helper, comforter, teacher, guide, advocate, to name a few.
Of course, the Holy pneuma can be so subtle that we miss it in our time of need. We get in a hurry to know the course and forget to take it step by dogged step. Sometimes the need, the loneliness, the emptiness cause us to forget that “getting it right” is worth slowing down for. Other times we are too busy and too full of our own agenda that we may just crowd it out altogether.
For all of those who have put their trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, "will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2:38
We may not see the wind and seldom feel the breath of God, but just like the echo of my mother’s call in my soul, the love of God is calling us home. It is the one trustworthy sense. The son of God, Jesus, says it like this “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you ...” John 14:26
In our crazy world where the news and the media and even our trusted leaders steer us astray, there’s a sense more than ever that we need to belong – but there’s also a spirit of division and fear that wants to put us in one camp or the other. Love seems temporary, at best. But that’s not true!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever shall believe in him, will not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
We belong to that world that God so loves. We belong to one family, one faith, one tribe where love forgives and restores and leads us home.
And if you’ve ever had a dog you know that love can cross all earthly bounds.
I hope and pray you remember God so loves you today –
in the deep recesses of your soul –
and that you sense it leading you toward home.