Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
"A Collect for the Presence of Christ, Book of Common Prayer, p. 124
I'm spending my vacation with Elizabeth at her home along the canal here in Lower Slower Delaware. Now, it's been great to be here with Elizabeth. It's been great sharing my vacation time with her first, with Doxy, and now, Jon, but the true charmer in my trip has been "Mr. Wonderful"--Elizabeth's dog, Theo. (many apologies to Jon's dog Rufus, who is right behind Theo as a close second.)
Some of you know Theo's story. But for some of you who don't, Theo came from a home that hoarded dogs, and it's clear he has issues with strangers and trust. He's incredibly shy, fearful, and passive. It was clear the first day he met me, that he wanted to get to know me--I'm sure I reek of Boomer and Little Eddie--but he just could not bring himself to do it. Every move, every time I looked at him, he barked...and barked...and barked.
On day two, Elizabeth finally said, "I've had enough.". She promptly took out his leash, snapped it to him, sat next to me, and pulled him over between us. After five minutes of petting, he seemed okay with that, and she left him free to roam around with the leash still on. He still didn't want to come too near me, but there was no more barking.
Over the next 24 hours, Theo, still dragging his leash around, has improved by leaps and bounds. He now comes up to me unannounced. He walks by and sniffs me. He even hopped up in my lap to show Rufus that I was in his pack, not Rufus'. His face changed from eternally pensive to the smile you see in his picture. I suspect by the time I leave, Theo will be pretty okay with me.
Elizabeth and I have postulated what the deal is with the leash. Now, I'm not degreed in dog psychology, but I think it is this: Elizabeth's walks with Theo are a bonding experience between the two of them. The presence of the leash, even without Elizabeth at the end of it, makes him feel safer. Theo knows that relationship, and how it allows him to meet challenges.
Without Elizabeth's presence, sacramentally transmitted through the leash, Theo would rather bark than meet the challenge.
The prayer above, from the Rite II Evening Prayer service, reminds us of our own leash--not a leash designed for constant control, not a leash for God to pull us around at his "beck n' call," but one that simply reminds us of presence. Like Theo's leash, it connects us to a trusting, loving relationship, even when no one is tugging on the other end. If I can trust that Elizabeth would never leave Theo connected to his leash alone, and allow him to be entangled and snarled up, I can trust Christ to not leave me alone on mine.