Father William O’Malley, S. J., wrote this beautiful poem called Galumphing at God’s Heels. Dog-lovers, especially, appreciate it.
The black lab galumphs beside me as I walk,
tongue lolling, eyes intent upon the stick.
He’s submissive to my whistle, not my trifling talk,
nor well-wrought reasons, much less rhetoric.
He trots ahead and turns, impatient for the throw,
snaps off a bark, then lumbers halfway back.
He cocks his head and huffs to tell me I’m too slow.
I throw and off he goes, a blur of black.
The world exists for him: the stick, the roadside, me.
We’re here to serve his simple solipsism.
Except for unpredictable caprice, he’s free,
without the humbling need for baptism.
To save him from a truck, I choke his collar short.
What earthly link? That noise, this loss of breath?
He punctuates his protest with a snort;
until they meet, no need to ponder death.
What narrow scope of truth his mind explores:
betrayal, hunger, curiosity.
He knows my mind about as I do yours;
my thoughts as closed to him as yours to me.
How humbling to confront one’s hubris, open-eyed,
to fathom what this big black mongrel feels.
I’d thought that you and I were striding side by side,
when all the time I was galumphing at your heels.
Like several other spiritualists, Father O’Malley compares a dog’s relationship with us to our relationship with God, our Master. They remind us that God’s ways are not our ways, and our understanding is limited—yet we know that we want to be in the divine presence to loosen our limitations. It is also possible that God becomes more understanding of our human condition by being in our presence just as sometimes the canine seems more of a god-figure in our bi-species relationship than are we. One famous mystic even claimed that his dog was the best spiritual director he ever had. PetPlace website lists numerous things that mongrels and puppies teach us. Among them are these: 1) When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. 2) Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride. 3) When it’s in your best interest practice obedience. 4) Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory; but avoid biting if a simple growl will do. 5) Take naps. 6) Run, romp, and play daily. 7) No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into guilt or pouting—run right back and make friends. 8) On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree. 9) Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. 10) Be loyal. 11) If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. 12) When someone is having a bad day be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
I will conclude with two other observations. One is from Abraham Lincoln, who said: “You can learn a lot about a man’s religion by how well he treats his dog.” The other is from author Stephen Brown, who wrote: “…A veterinarian can learn much about a dog owner he has never met just by observing the dog.” Brown then asks: “What does the world learn about God by watching us, His followers?” As we go forth galumphing at our Master’s heels, limited by what we know and understand, let us relish our relationship with others, from God to dog, rejoicing in life and giving honor to all.