September 13, 2022

From the Rector…

I purchased a new dog bed for Archie, my basset hound puppy. It’s a small L.L. Bean one that fits in the back of his kennel for him to sleep on. His sister, Petunia, has one in hers and he often tries to sneak in and lay down on it. So, I ordered one for him as well, thinking he would really appreciate the comfy bed at night.

When it arrived, Archie and Petunia watched me take it out of the box, put the cover on the pillow, and then bend down to let them sniff it. They took off, running out of the room, barking over their shoulder at this strange new thing that was sure to endanger them. It took a lot of coaxing and cooing to get them to come back in from outside, where they were standing just beyond the door, still barking at the new pillow. Finally, I was able to convince them that neither I nor the pillow wanted to hurt them. They came back in and gingerly sniffed the monstrosity. Having been fully satisfied that this was not the latest danger in a life fraught with horrors at every turn, they seemed to calm down and accept this new thing—that is, until I put it in Archie’s kennel.

I vacuumed out the kennel and rearranged the toys to the front and then placed the pillow across the back of the kennel so that the set-up was exactly like Petunia’s kennel. Both bassets watched my every move. When I was finished, I invited Archie to go in and try out his new pillow. He walked in warily, eyeing the pillow as if it might attack him at any minute. I offered him words of encouragement and praise and he put one paw on the pillow and then ran for it! Right out the back door. Petunia stuck her head in the cage, gave one sharp and terrifying (or should I say terrified) bark and took off after him. I gave up and left the pillow to be dealt with that evening at bedtime.

There is an innate fear that exists within us. I am sure that it goes back to our cave man days when the world was filled with dangers at every turn, and we had to be constantly aware and suspicious of our surroundings in order to stay alive. That fear instinct was simply a matter of survival. Nowadays, that instinct is no longer as vital to our continued existence as it once was—but it hasn’t gone away and rightly so. It keeps us aware and alert of potential dangers. Instead of naively stumbling through this world, we develop our instinct of fear into what some might call street smarts, or common sense, or a healthy awareness of our environment to stay safe.  

Life is not without risk as Archibald and Petunia keep reminding me. Try as I might to create a utopian world in which they are safe and secure and able to thrive, they instinctively know that they cannot trust their environment without first investigating it and being aware of any potential dangers or pitfalls. Sometimes they take this a little too far and act like scaredy cats i.e. their response to the new dog bed. But their fear is not as much a distrust of me as it is a healthy emotional development for them.  

Archie and Petunia will grow stronger in their trust of the world as they experience the world more and more. They will discover what needs to be barked at and what can simply be left alone. They will cultivate a fear response based, in part, on what Steve and I reinforce for them. The things we are afraid of, they will become afraid of—our actions and behaviors will be absorbed by them and shape their own behaviors. It’s the same with people.  

When we allow our fear response to go unchecked, we discover that we hold an unhealthy level of fear related to harm or scarcity or lack of control that might not accurately reflect the truth of a given situation. Our fear can increase exponentially and, often, lead us down paths that we might not otherwise have followed (think January 6, 2021). Fear is not something we simply bark at or run from, it can also simply shut us down and keep us from living. Developing the courage and compassion within oneself to approach fear, question its reality, and then find ways to move beyond it is a spiritually and emotionally healthy way to approach life.  

Archie finally did just that. That night Archie went into his kennel with a cookie bribe. The next morning, I found him all curled up on his new dog bed—sleeping soundly, not a care in the world.

Light and Life,