Tuesday, August 27, 2013

PENNY’S CALL

Penny at Mass
While the U.S. ponders whether it should cut off aid to Egypt’s military, Manila struggles with the aftermath of a typhoon that dumped two feet of rain, the stock market dips, and intermittent storms blow through various parts of this country, here on The Mountain, those of us who attend services at St. Mary’s have begun pondering the serious question of what to do about Penny’s "call."  Penny is an orphaned, mixed pitbull/retriever who found a home at the Convent a few years ago  a brown dog with an equable disposition who wanders through the halls, refectory, and, lately, onto the altar at St. Mary’s chapel. 

I’m sure that those who could be termed “preciousnists” or people who are obsessive-compulsive about liturgical matters, will recoil in horror as I present this question of what to do about a dog’s call to ministry, particularly when it involves liturgical functions. I’m one who appreciates dogs even though I’m allergic to animal dander and have to limit my petting privileges.  I inherited this fondness for them through the Greenlaw strain, a strain that has produced numerous dogologists who claim to speak in dog tongue, and I’m among those who have witnessed a dog being “called,” a call that should be given human and humane consideration.
As usual, the via media is at work among Anglicans who always try to hold two opposing viewpoints in tension as they attack theological questionsthere are those who dismiss this canine’s call to ministry as nonsense and advocate banishing the dog from the chapel, and there are those who favor her at least answering an altar call and coming up for a blessing.
Penny normally lies in a dog bed behind the chair of Sr. Madeleine Mary, the Sister-in-Charge of St. Mary’s, who has been a strong force in the discipline of the dog’s behavior up to this point.  Several weeks ago, Sr. Madeleine Mary went on a short vacation, followed by a doctor’s visit in New York, and Penny began to stray from her bed during services, sidling up to various dog lovers and asking them why her mistress had abandoned her.  Those of us who understand dogs saw that Penny was questioning the strength of her mistress’s affection for her – she had been abandoned by a previous master and suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome, as well as certain separation issues that require a support team trained in petting, feeding, and walking pets who have been mistreated or abandoned by masters or mistresses lacking in sensitivity regarding the emotional lives of canines.
When Sr. Madeleine Mary returned, Penny began to shadow Sister even more than she had before Sister went on vacation, and she refused to tolerate any more schisms in their partnership.  Now whether Penny suffered so much psychological damage that she was driven into considering the ministry (this sometimes occurs, and people get ordained before the Commission on Ministry realizes that the aspirant's "call" is really an act of desperation) or just had a valid call to serve on the altar, we don’t know, since there's no canine Commission on Ministry or Discernment Committee, no dog Bishop to disavow this call.  But the fact is that during Friday Healing Service, Penny followed Sr. Madeleine Mary onto the altar and stood waiting to be anointed like the rest of God’s creatures, great or small.  However, she wasn’t given the oil or a blessing, and she went away to ponder the so-called healing practices of humans.
I don’t know if Sr. Madeleine Mary read aloud portions of The Wounded Healer to Penny, or if she simply went into a mini-retreat to ponder what she should do with her newfound desire to participate in the Episcopal services offered at the Convent, but during the Eucharist last Sunday, Penny exhibited her call and decided to help me prepare the table and carry out my diaconal duties.  It was evident she really felt called, and had I been invested with more authority than a deacon (defined as that “inferior order” in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer), I would’ve ordained her a subdeacon on the spot…
However, I just went home and re-read an interview I once had with the famous Louisiana painter, George Rodrigue, whose blue dog appears in the foreground of almost every painting he renders.  In part of the dialogue with Rodrigue, I comment: “There is a book called Dictionary of Scripture and Myths, and the definition of a dog is this: the dog is a symbol of the higher self and the going forth of the self as will.”
 Rodrigue answers, “When my dog Tiffany died, she came back to find her master.  The spirits of  dogs travel – there is no time – they travel from the first century to the present, and their job is to try and find their way back to their masters, but they have a difficult time because every situation is a human situation and they’re caught in these human situations…”   Hmmm.
This dialogue goes on several hours, and I tell Rodrigue about the old legend that took place after Adam, the first man, appeared.  The legend relates that after the creation, a gulf opened up between Adam and the animals that he had given names.  Among them was this dog who kept looking at the ever-widening breach.  The separation was almost complete, but the dog suddenly leaped across the gulf and took his place beside man.
Maybe, just maybe, Penny thinks that like George and his blue dog, she and Sister Madeleine Mary should take their places side by side on the altar, or perhaps she even envisions serving as a subdeacon with me, despite my allergies.  It’s a thorny question, but I wouldn’t want this kind of "inclusiveness issue" to be deliberated at General Convention because I'm certain that Penny would become a dog with white whiskers before the warring factions made any decision about her “call” to serve or celebrate at The Table.
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