Dog Walking, As the Dog

Published March 23, 2015 by

I took my dog for a walk on a melting, muddy day. Cricket was thrilled after a winter of brief, shivering trips to the backyard, where sometimes the sub-zero temperatures sent her in limping, with one paw held up off the snow. I enjoyed finally being out without gloves or boots or slippery roadways.


As we took our damp stroll, I found myself wondering about the strange bond between dog and human. Many before me have compared it to the relationship between a human being and God – with us as the dog. But the image is still fresh for me, as Cricket is the only dog I’ve ever owned. (Four years ago I couldn’t say “no” to my daughter’s desperate need for a furry pal, as my parents had.) My daughter might be surprised to hear me call Cricket “my” dog, but she is definitely part of the family, and therefore at least partly mine.


Back to the walk. Cricket weighs 35 pounds. I weigh more. So in tugging matches, I win. It’s interesting that when I want to stop and look at something or talk to someone, Cricket is eager to go. When Cricket wants to stop and smell something, I am often pulling her along, to avoid something gross or some unexpected danger.


When trying to explain the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, we often use the language of “tug” and “nudge.” Funny that it should feel just like walking a dog. In a tugging match with me, God is always capable of winning. But God is not a dictator, and often allows me to tug back. I find God’s restraint with me quite remarkable. I am not that patient with Cricket. Why do I go when God says “Stop!” Why do I stop when God says “Go!”?


As we were crossing one street, Cricket stopped. And I said, “Come on, dummy! You’re in the middle of the road!” It made me laugh out loud to think of the ways that God says the same thing to me (more graciously, though, without calling me dummy!). I get hung up on something or distracted by a whiff of this or that, and God uses scripture or friends in faith or sometimes even a quick stab of pain to remind me that if I stay where I am, I could get run over! God’s rules for us are always about our well-being, and not a power trip on God’s part. (I wish I could say the same of my rules for Cricket.)


As we walked, we were sometimes side-by-side, almost in step with one another. The leash was relaxed. Our heads were up. But more often, Cricket was at the far edge that the leash would allow, running when I was walking, lagging when I was moving. She was on a four-foot leash. But even when we use the retractable 15-foot leash, the same thing happens. Near me and far from me, but more often far. How like my walk of faith this is! I run to whatever edge I can, often forgetting the One who is holding my leash and allowing my latitude.


Rarely, Cricket and I peacefully stand next to each other, taking in the world and each other. It’s nice. Why do such moments with me and the Lord seem few enough to name? Especially when I treasure moments of true togetherness!


In my tradition, one of the often-used metaphors for faith is a journey. Walking alongside God. We even sometimes call faith “our walk.” Our forefathers and mothers used to ask each other in Swedish, “How goes it with your walk?” as a way to engage each other in discussions of faith and to journey together. It’s a gentle question, one that assumes that each person’s experience of faith matters, and that we can learn something from one another. So, how is it from your end of the leash these days? How’s your walk?

(This first appeared as a column in the Mining Journal newspaper, Marquette County, MI 3/21/15)

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