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Cathedrals, Bitches and Relics

This blog begins as something of a love song to my beloved dog, a bitch called ‘Florence Wolf’.


So, a trigger warning to cat lovers, and to non-animal lovers. I want to start with  a semi restrained, over-the-top tribute to my beloved Florence. She is my dog; and not just a dog, but a husky, which is a particularly  human kind of dog. She even holds hands with me  by a form of interlinking of her forearm with mine. She seems to nearly talk, having sounds that come with intonations like words.  She is a dog of routine, and consequently will interrupt my writing by sticking her nose under my mouse hand until I drop the mouse and give up altogether because she has decided it is time to take her out into the garden for a perambulation, and the mega sniff routine that gives her life purpose.

 

The question asked by everybody who loves deeply Is whether or not those we love, will stand before the living God in heaven?

 

Pet lovers in particular ask this question frequently of clergy, especially at a time of pet bereavement.

 

This is not intended to be a direct answer to that question, but instead, to place the question in a wider framework of our relationship of love, with God, the creator, and all that he has created.

 

I’ve been writing quite a lot recently about the desecration of Canterbury Cathedral. The arguments are between two camps of people. Anglicans are the children of the enlightenment, and they understand matter, only as that stuff useful for human beings. Catholics have a wider and deeper understanding of matter, and, perhaps more importantly, more profound experience of the way that God uses the material to express himself to explore a deeper relationship with us.

 

But before considering weeping statues, weeping icons and healing relics, let’s go back to our pets.

 

CS. Lewis makes a moving  argument that our pets are drawn into a relationship with God through our love of them. This is not about being nice or sentimental. It’s instead about order, hierarchy, authority and obedience.

 

Lewis suggests that tame animals are the most “natural” animals, because they are under the dominion of a human master. He suggests that this is a natural order of things, because it was ordained by God, as described in Genesis. These animals may attain some kind of selfhood. But not because they have immortal souls in the Platonic sense. Instead it is because of their relationship with their masters. A chain of obedience through which the love and presence of God flows.

 

“In the New Testament Christians are described as being ‘in’ Christ, ..there may be a sense, corresponding, though not identical… in which those beasts that attain a real self are in their masters”.

 

Perhaps most important in Lewis’ apprehension, is this idea that the extent to which one is ‘in Christ’, is the extent to which resurrection life has traction. He has this sense that in so far as humanity re-orders our relationship with the Father, and extends a hierarchy of trust and obedience down into sentient creation, so re-ordered sentient creation is drawn with us into the resurrection life of Christ now and in heaven.

 

But if we move beyond, sentient creatures to inanimate matter, we find that creation, created matter, things we dedicate to God, can become infused with the presence of God and respond accordingly. 

 

In both the prologue to the gospel of St John, and in Colossians, we are reminded that all things were created in and for Christ, and that in him all things hold together.

 

I had a very strange experience when I was an Anglican vicar with a parish on the south Croydon housing estate.

 

I used to spend every Saturday evening praying in the sanctuary of the church, often prostrate before the altar.  One evening, suddenly, as I was lying there, praying, the floor ‘disappeared. I was left (as it seemed) suspended in space, wondering what would happen next.

 

 Instead of any particular holy thoughts, I couldn’t get rid of the question of what I was going do the next time I needed a pee, because there was no floor to walk on. Without a floor my autonomy was gone. I had no way of propelling myself anywhere. There was no longer any floor beneath my feet to allow me to walk on it.  I wondered how this changed my relationship with God (I was now completely helpless), and my purpose.

 

At some point, somehow, the floor suddenly returned, and I was able to get up. Walking on it was very different. I was so grateful for it. I had always taken the floor for granted. I had always taken my capacity to walk where I wanted when I wanted for granted. I had no idea how dependent I was on God in his provision of the floor in particular and matter in general.

 

It seemed almost as if the floor was like God placing his hand beneath me to allow me to walk in the palm of his hand. Since all matter was held in place by Christ.

 

In some strange way, ever, since that moment the floor, or the ground under my feet, has always carried the sense of being there, because God wills it and gifts it, and so almost constitutes a divine hand on which I walk.

 

If everything that was created holds together in Christ, then, to some extent, Christ is present in and through all matter.  But true as this is, his presence must intensify when things are consciously dedicated to him by us. Every act of surrender of our bodies and the world around us, has the effect of inviting God to be more profoundly present.  

 

It has also been the  experience of the church that matter is dedicated to God. It becomes infused with his presence, and potentially acts as a bridge between us  and life in the kingdom of heaven. The experience the church has had of weeping statues for example.

 

And in particular one of the most impressive was the one that our Lady used in her operations in Akita in Japan, in 1973, which were authenticated by the church that statues and icons act as permeable channels of the kingdom of heaven, through which God act towards us.

 

The apparition of our Lady in Akita used a wooden statue of her to make her presence known. The wood began to change through her presence. As well as replicating a wound in the hand carried by Sr Agnes, the nun who received the apparition, the statue through which Mary spoke was subject to profound changes of colour. The face, hands, and feet of the statue dramatically turned a dark red. It was observed by many to weep copiously.  As predicted in the apparitions. Sr. Agnes’ deafness was cured on May 30, 1982. But while the heart of the event was not the transformation of the statue, but the messages calling the Church to a deeper prayer, penance and conversion, nonetheless, heaven used things to make itself known.

 

For those who take the infusion of matter and Spirit seriously, corroborative phenomena has been observed throughout the Orthodox world with Ikons of our Lady in particular weeping and producing a substance with a scent like Myrrh. But this all goes back to the Book of Acts.  It begins of course with Paul’s handkerchief in Acts 19, where pieces of clothing that belong to St Paul brought healing to the sick who touched  them.

 

With an understanding that there is no separation of category between matter and spirit, but spirit infuses everything, including material, things, the way we treat anything dedicated, specifically to God has to take into account the intensification of his presence.

 

The stones of the church, or of the cathedral become holy, because of the purpose, to which the airport, and the prayers that have surrounded them from the beginning of the project through, they use in time.  It ought to be completely impossible to evacuate sacred spaces of our awareness of holiness that God’s presence confers when we worship and pray, and particularly when and where Mass is celebrated.

 

Part of our purpose on earth is to offer our wills to everything being drawn towards and into Christ. God wants to use both our love, and our minds in order to heal a breach of relationship between him and what he has created. Dogs, stones and people become part of the great love story of reconciliation that he invites us to participate in.

 

For some people holiness and love, present themselves as alternatives. But the closer we get to Jesus, the more they become the same thing.

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My most infamous childhood pet was large male tabby with a hole in its head from its many scraps in the estate we lived in. We called it Fluffy. It was feared by every dog in the local vicinity. One of those oddities of nature that gave clay to TS Eliot.


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Roxanne
Roxanne
Feb 27

I lost my best friend a few years ago and it was right after my last child graduated and moved away so it was the first time I was totally alone in my entire life- at age 65! could not keep from crying daily for a year and did not want to go home after work to the empty house. I finally just accepted that I would live out my days in grief, but so thankful for the time I had with Humphrey, when at daily Mass I had the most extraordinary experience.

I was sitting in the fourth pew from the front and went up to receive Communion. Immediately as I turned to return to my pew I foun…


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I hate cats.

Over the last 35 years, two cats have been a part of of our lives.

Both cats love/loved me. Fetch Fall Williams (named by my youngest daughter, Leah) was a small, stray kitten that wondered onto our porch. Leah threw popcorn at her and she ended up with us for about 18 years. (Life ended due to a UPS truck incident....) I worked second shift. Fetch would wait on the porch until I arrived home. She would jump on the hood of the car, rub her whiskers on the radio antenna, jump on the roof and wait for me to give her a "head buff:" a brisk massage of her head and ears. She was lo…

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'Ye men of Athens ... I declare unto you that God made the world and all the things therein ... for in him we live and move and have our being.'

Some places seem to radiate an atmosphere that is sensed by some and not by others. Some ruined abbeys do, for example. Curious, I asked a historian whether he thought a particular ruined abbey had been deconsecrated before its destruction. He said no, he believed not for a number of good reasons. This may account for the lingering sense of holiness and of entering another world at that place.

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Very interesting on the notion of dogs. Coincidentally, I have been thinking about that a lot lately. We lost a very special dog 4 years ago on Feb. 21st. She developed a terrible, slow, and unexpected disease that could not be cured. That dog was extremely special in how she gave love. I was wondering, once again, if it were silly to think of dogs in heaven. But given the great love our dogs have given us over the year, I thought that maybe they have a special place in Jesus's heart, too. It helps me to think so...

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