Saving Treyden

Saving TreydenI have never been very successful trying to understand the pain in this world. Yes, I try to understand what Pope John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Dolorus and in his Letter to the Sick at the National Cancer Institute. This is not easy going. I’m not as concerned about my own salvation as I am about those who suffer, animals and human.

We were on our way to Texas for my mother-in-law’s funeral. My cellphone rang. A call from the animal hospital where I was boarding my cat, Sonny. There was a lump on his hip. Should they take a sample and send it to the lab? “Why, yes,” I said, “of course.” I didn’t even ask about the expense. Animal or not, Sonny was my friend and I would take care of him like any friend.

Next day a call from the veterinarian, the cells looked funny to her and the lab. Although they could not be positive they were cancerous, she thought it would be best to remove the tumor. I did not hesitate to say yes. Damn the cost. I had already lost one dear feline friend and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake with Sonny by not getting him care.

The tumor was successfully removed, and I was grateful. It was an aggressive, malignant sarcoma. But a month later he fell ill. Even though he was in the house, we could not find him for hours. When we did, I could see how sick he was. I had watched my other feline friend die an agonizing death, perhaps because I did not get him the medical care he needed, and if given a second chance I would not let that happen again. It was an awful night. Sick as Sonny was, he came to the bed to say good night in his way, as he often did. I too was sick, sick at heart. I could never understand why animals had to suffer. Oh sure, I’ve read that they do not comprehend pain as we do, but the fact of the matter is they do feel pain. And they are innocent. They are without sin. Yet they suffer for our sins.

I too was suffering, full of anguish and worry, and it made me reflect upon suffering and pain once again. It was always easier to understand my own suffering than it was the suffering of others. The worst of suffering was never physical pain, but the suffering of anguish and worry and loss. Of watching and trying to comprehend the incomprehensible suffering we see all about us. I think it was Percy Bysshe Shelley who once said he was like a nerve “over which the else unfelt oppressions of this earth do creep.” Yes, I was feeling pain and anguish for Sonny, perhaps comprehending life without him coming to our bed at night. But what I was thinking went a lot deeper than that.

The Catholic Church teaches a couple of things in relation to animals. First, we should not spend money on them that should as a priority go to relieve human misery. Well, that wasn’t going to stop me from taking him to the animal hospital and letting them put him on an IV and anti-biotics. That’s what I did and once again I didn’t ask about the expense. Sonny was a better friend to me than many people had been. Perhaps the message to me in this was that I should also give more money to human causes.

The Church also teaches that while it’s OK to love animals, we should not direct the affection toward them that are due to human beings. Well, of course not, but that did not prevent my empathizing with his suffering or my anguish at the thought of losing him. He had done nothing to deserve his suffering, much less death at a relatively young age. Was I wrong to pray for him? If God knows when a sparrow falls from the sky, surely He knew that Sonny was sick as well.

After a night in the hospital, Sonny fully recovered. Prayers answered? I don’t even think about that. I’m just grateful to have his friendship back. But that’s only the lead-in to why I came to write this post. My daughter-in-law has been posting and sharing entries from a Facebook site “Saving Treyden.” Treyden is a baby. He is very sick. His parents are going through a hell no one deserves. Until this time, I had thought very little about these posts. To be honest, I still have not read them in great detail because I simply cannot bear it. See, Treyden being a baby, he too is innocent.

Being a parent and a grandparent of an infant grandson, I simply cannot comprehend the agony his parents are going through. I don’t need to read their posts to pray for them and for Treyden. It’s all we can do to pray into the darkness of this fallen world and pour some light into it. It’s all I can do. That, and ask anyone else who reads this to pray for Treyden and his suffering parents. They all need the strength that only God can give.

Please take an extra moment today and pray for them. God Bless You.

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No Cilices for Me, Thank You; or I Let God Feed the Bears

TurkeyI look out the living room window and wonder whether to take the dog for a walk in the woods. It’s drizzling icy rain. A half inch of slush sits atop old, soft snow. The trail will be icy and treacherous. But there might be new turkey tracks, and Cooper won’t care about the weather.

As always, Cooper is so grateful for his release from the kennel he jumps about nipping at the shoulders of my hunting jacket. Even dogs know joy and gratitude. I take him even on days when I don’t feel like it, because his gratitude makes it all worthwhile. Hmmm, I wonder, maybe God would like a little more jumping up and down from me, spiritual jumping of course. I have much to be grateful for, this walk for instance.

Cooper forges on ahead. He has far too much pent-up energy to go at my speed. The winter-bare trees loom gray and wet and awaiting spring. The trail is a hazard for 61-year old arthritic knees. In some places the snow is firm and in others it slips away. By now I know where to expect the ice. My knees are firmly wrapped in Ace bandages, which I do every day because of loose ligaments. They have felt better lately, but I could do more for them. Sometimes the pain getting up from a chair is excruciating. I make a point to consecrate my aching knees to Christ.

That does not mean I want the pain. It just means I accept it as God’s will. I use it as a form of prayer. That does not mean I shouldn’t lose weight and do the exercises the therapist said I should do. We don’t have to go out of our way to suffer; there’s suffering enough in life without helping ourselves to it. No cilices for me, thank you. My hunting jacket is warm, dry and comfortable. My boots are waterproof, and I don’t feel a bit guilty about it. Just infrequently grateful.

The snow is noisy, crunching beneath my boots. I am seeing no tracks, except a few rabbit prints. Cooper emerges from the trees ahead. He has his favorite detours where the aromas must be of special interest, and so I catch up to him. I can scarcely wait for the snow to be gone, even as winter seems to be clinging to its last icy breath. I can scarcely wait to hunt turkeys next week, although I know the week of my permit will be over quickly, assuming I need to hunt that long, which is likely.

I am no expert turkey hunter, but that isn’t important to me. I pull a crow call from my pocket and send a few caws into the soggy air. I stop and listen. Cooper turns and looks at me. He wonders if I am calling him. No, I have a whistle for him when he ranges too far. There are things in these woods even a seventy-five pound dog does not want to meet. Wild turkeys will sometimes gobble to various calls, so I was just sounding out the neighborhood. I am at the turn where I saw a pair of turkey tracks ten days ago or so. Until January when I found tracks across our front yard, I have never found turkey tracks on our property before, although turkeys have been seen nearby for several years now. This is no turkey hunting mecca, but I will try hunting our own property the first couple of days. I listen a little longer, but I hear only the neighbor’s chainsaw grinding.

Slipping a little, I put the call back in my pocket and move on. So does Cooper. We pass the tree stand where I wait for deer in season, so far unsuccessfully. I have shot some nice ones, though, with the trail cam, but pixels don’t fry up very well.

Pilated Woodpecker WorkWe stop at the bend where the trail turns down to the creek. There is a dead balsam pine here full of perfectly drilled holes made by a pileated woodpecker, the largest and in my opinion most beautiful of woodpeckers. I marvel at his handiwork. One morning sitting in the tree stand I heard what sounded like someone pounding a small hammer on wood. I didn’t know what it was then, but I do now. Even in winter time, the Lord feeds his Pileated Woodpeckercreatures. The bird must find dormant bugs in the dead wood. Last fall, while sitting in a blind, a pileated landed not eight feet from me. What beautiful, graceful birds they are. Yes, Lord, they make me want to jump up and down. Thank you.

I pull an owl call from my pocket and blow some hoo-hooing. Once again, Cooper looks at me cockeyed, like the RCA dog, although he has heard me do this before. My calls are once again met by silence.

Another hundred yards and we are at what is most of the year a creek. Right now it is full of ice from melting snow. There is no surface flow yet. I stop short of the ice and pull a wooden box call from another pocket. It consists of a paddle bolted over a hollow, resonating box. The contact surfaces are made to emit almost any sound made by turkey hens when the paddle is scraped over the edges of the box. I try a few clucks and short calls called cuts. I am not surprised to get no response again. Cooper is jumping up and down next to me, knowing this is the end of the line, the place where I give him a treat and turn around. I pull one from my pocket, and he takes it before I can offer.

On the way back, I hear a strange tweeting overhead, like a small creature blowing a whistle. When I hear it again, I stop and look up. I see black-capped chickadees dancing in the pine branches. They appear to be following us. Maybe they recognize me as the person who leaves them black oil sunflower seeds on our deck all winter. Winters are hard here, and I don’t mind helping the Lord feed his creatures. The chickadees don’t explain the tweeting sound, however, never having heard them tweet like that. There is still so much I don’t know about these woods I’ve lived in for almost 30 years.

When we get back to the house, the birds are at the last of the sunflower seeds, redpolls, nuthatches, blue jays, chickadees. We had pine grosbeaks earlier in the winter, but they have moved on now. There will be no more seeds for the birds this year, because the bears are waking up. The garbage can where we keep the sunflower seeds still wears the dent it received from two bears arguing over its contents. The bears will break into a garage for sunflower seeds. They instinctively know what doors are for, and they care little for locks. For years now, I’ve left the feeding of the bears exclusively to God.

 

Tertullian on Prayer

IMG_0801 In this morning’s readings Tertullian has this to say about prayer. It speaks for itself:

“We are true worshipers and true priests. We pray in spirit, and so offer in spirit the sacrifice of prayer. Prayer is an offering that belongs to God and is acceptable to him: it is the offering he has asked for, the offering he planned as his own.

“We must dedicate this offering with our whole heart, we must fatten it on faith, tend it by truth, keep it unblemished through innocence and clean through chastity, and crown it with love. We must escort it to the altar of God in a procession of good works to the sound of psalms and hymns. Then it will gain for us all that we ask of God….

“…How much greater then is the power of Christian prayer. No longer does prayer bring an angel of comfort to the heart of a fiery furnace, or close up the mouths of lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields. No longer does it remove all sense of pain by the grace it wins for others. But it gives the armor of patience to those who suffer, who feel pain, who are distressed. It strengthens the power of grace, so that faith may know what it is gaining from the Lord, and understand when it is suffering for the name of God.

“Its only art is to call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the possessed, to open prison cells, to free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm.

“All angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look up to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.

“What more need be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honor and power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Spiritual Master

I must in a little time go to God. What comforts me in this life is that I now see Him by faith; and I see Him in such a manner as might make me say sometimes, I believe no more but I see. I feel what faith teaches us, and in that assurance and that practice of faith I will live and die with Him.Brother Lawrence

The Practice of the Presence of God

 

I take my dog into the woods every day. For me it is a walk, for Cooper a run. It is becoming part of my prayer life. Cooper follows his nose everywhere. Sometimes he veers off the trail into the soft snow and roots deeply into it with his nose. He can smell things beneath the surface that I might not be able to smell in front of my face. He can see what I cannot. He can hear what I cannot. Mother Nature is his deity, and he is far more aware of her than I am of God.

We need to become more like our pets, to look beneath the surface of things, to see into the darkness. We need to listen for the whispers of Him in the storm.

Ghost Dog

Offering of St. Ignatius Loyola

Take, O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. Thou hast given me all that I am and all that I possess; I surrender it all to Thee that Thou mayest dispose of it according to Thy will. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will have no more to desire.

The air was a crisp 15 degrees. Although the sun was breaking through the thin clouds, a few random flakes of snow were still drifting down, like ashes from a distant fire. Lake Superior sometimes gives us snow no one else gets. The trail was mostly packed from use, and the snow crunched beneath my boots. I would have needed snowshoes to go elsewhere.

Our golden retriever, Cooper, moved easily and silently in the deeper snow. Sometimes I saw him among the trees, and sometimes I didn’t. He was like a ghost. When I thought he was behind me, he was in front of me. When I thought he was in front of me, he was behind me. I looked for fresh tracks but saw none. Most of the older tracks had been made by deer. I was more interested in finding fox or bobcat tracks or even coyote, which are more common. Sometimes I found grouse tracks or, rarely, turkey.

Normally, by this time of day, I would have long forgotten my morning prayer of consecration, like the one above. How often the peace following morning prayer is washed away by the cascade of daily distractions. But as I looked for my dog, I remembered that I had consecrated this walk, along with the rest of my day to the Lord. My prayer. My offering. Step by snow scrabbling step. Looking for my spirituality was like looking for my dog, there but often out of sight. There but often silent, at least until it comes running up the trail behind me. Or ahead of me.

The halfway point of our walk lies where the trail ends down by the little creek. It is covered by ice and snow now. You can no longer hear the water gurgling beneath. Cooper knows this is where I reach into my right pocket for a treat. He came running, bouncing up on his hind legs until I gave it to him. This place is my cathedral, a place that seems sacred without my making it so. I lingered there a moment as is my habit, imprinting it upon my soul. A wolf had run up on us once here, on feet even more silent than Cooper’s through the thick brush on the other side. A flash of gray through an opening in the trees. Cooper gave chase. A current of fear for him went through me. Fifty yards away he filled the air with warning barks and turned back.

This morning he was thirty yards back up the trail, watching me and waiting. “OK, OK, I’m coming,” I said, as I turned toward home. There was no wolf this morning, no new tracks. In a moment he disappeared into the trees again. Life was unexpected. God made it that way.