For the second time since March we have taken in a lodger. Hamish, our grandkids two year old Westie has returned to the manse for some respite and counselling. The wee dog has been in lockdown with a just turned five year old and a three year old for fourteen weeks and was not enjoying being compelled to slide down garden chutes or being swung on garden swings as much as he might. So, Hamish is here, keeping Skye, my springer spaniel, company.
Martin Laird is an Augustinian priest at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, USA. In his book “Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation” (Oxford University Press) he tells a powerful story.
He speaks of walking across a moor with a friend who had four dogs. As they walked, three of the dogs would run out across the moor, leaping over creeks and chasing rabbits and very joyfully exploring their environment. But one of the dogs would only run in a small circle right in front of his owner. No matter how many miles they walked or how far afield the other dogs went, this dog would only run in a tight circle very close to them.
Laird asked his friend why this was so, and he replied, “This dog was kept for his entire life prior to coming to me in a very small cage. His body has left the cage, but his mind still carries it with him. For him, the world outside the cage does not exist, and so no matter how big and beautiful the moor, he will never run out across it. I bring him here so he can breathe the fresh air, but he’s still running circles in his cage.”
On a good day, when we’re feeling confident and happy in God’s love, seeing the glory of God’s people and God’s creation all around us, gray is beautiful.
We set aside the comforting security of black and white thinking and dive into the shadow-land between.
Gray is possibility, opportunity, the treasure hidden in the field. We can handle and even appreciate nuance, subtlety, ambiguity, and the uncertainty that is the foundational characteristic of faith.
But when we are hurting, weary, afraid, not only can we no longer see the shades of gray, we no longer want to. We are the dog who carries the cage with him out onto the moor. We think we’re keeping ourselves safe, we think we’re obeying the rules,but really, we’re our own jailers. We’re refusing to see the open gate in our hearts. We’re refusing to see Jesus. Sometimes we wish the barriers and boundaries we’ve placed around our hearts were bulletproof and siege-resistant. But before long, God reminds us that that aching hole in our hearts, where insight and possibility and all of these people, beautiful, flawed people, keep sneaking in - is the very presence of Jesus who brings us rest in green pastures, beside the still waters.