*Deliberate misspelling of the word prodigal
I spent many delightful hours of my youth in the park. Happy afternoons were often spent lounging on the grass with my friends, eating cones of chips and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. One such day, on a pleasant spring afternoon, I had a phone call from my Mum which went something like this:
Mum: Alright, Pops, what’cha doin’?
Me: Nothing much, just in the park eating cookie dough. What are you guys up to?
Mum: Going to see a man about a dog.
Me: What are you really doing?
Mum: Going to see a man about a dog!
Me: Right, is that some kind of code for something…?
Mum: No! We’re going to see a man about a dog. See you for tea?
Me (slightly perplexed): yeah sure.
The reason for my disbelief was because I had always wanted a dog. But Mum and Dad said that we wouldn’t get one. So when they said they were going to ‘see a man about a dog’, I was very certain that I would not indulge this phase of theirs, so that I wouldn’t end up feeling disappointed when they inevitably changed their minds.
But a few Saturdays later, they were still going. They were heading to a kennels where they homed what my Mum called ‘recycled dogs’, in this case, ex-racing greyhounds. And low and behold, a ‘recycled dog’ came to be a part of our family. The racing name ‘Ardna Jenna‘ got shortened to ‘Jenna‘ and ‘Jenjen‘. Four became five, and we went on a journey.
Dogs what have been bred for a certain task, to work, herd sheep, to run, don’t have much of a puppy-hood. Racing Greyhounds are often in cages for a lot of the time (23 hours a day) and so any desire to play is squashed out of them. To begin with, Jenna wasn’t bothered about sticks, balls, rings, bits of rope, any toy at all… until the arrival of the rubber chicken. This noisy toy was squeaked next to her ears for a good couple of weeks before she eventually put her chest flat on the floor, front legs stretched out in front of her and woofed. We whooped and cheered! She took the chicken and played with it, getting increasingly excited at is squeaked in her mouth. And there she was, a playful, funny dog reclaiming her youthfulness.
A few years later, I felt God talking to me about what it meant to rest in his presence and to worship. I found myself looking to Jenna for a couple of reasons.
When she had really settled into our house, she would sit in the back garden on the grass, ears flickering softly in the breeze, nose gently sniffing the air. She looked so calm and content. She was so grateful for the grass, the peace, the space,the home. She was, I think, in her own way, spending time with the God who made her and brought her to a better place than she had previously known:
All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing: Alleluia, alleluia!
Secondly, she helped me to learn a lot about what our attitude to worship should be. When we used to leave the house, Jenna would be shut in the kitchen. When we came home, she would hear the lock in the door, get up off her bed and head to the shut door between the kitchen and the hall to greet us. When we opened it, she would jump up (often looking us right in the eyes because she was so big!), she would wag her tail, run around us desperate for a pet, and stretch her mouth over her teeth so that it looked like she was smiling. She did not behave like that out of duty, out of responsibility, out of habit, because she liked the attention or because it made her feel better. She did it because she loved us and she wanted us to know that she was grateful to see us!
And this is how it should be when we come to meet God, when we come to worship. I don’t necessarily mean jumping around, loud, chaotic and without any sense of decorum like Jenna. But when we come to worship God, we should do so because we love him, are delighted to see him and want to spend time with him. I know we can’t always do it, but we should try and come to him with joy and anticipation when we can.
Now Jenna went to sleep for the last time 10 or so days ago. You might wonder why, after so many blogs in the run up to priesting, there hasn’t been one since. But with a couple of things around the ordination that caused what I can only describe as writers block, a family bereavement and now with the death of my favourite animal, I’ve just not been up to it.
But with a bit of time to reflect, I just want to say that Jenna taught me so much. She loved in a way that I couldn’t, and she loved me when I couldn’t love myself. She was a huge part of home. I have been struggling to feel anything like my normal levels of joy, and I definitely had to quote ‘deacons are called to preach the Gospel in season and out of season’ several times to myself at Church on Sunday. I wasn’t sure if I was just being a bit of a wimp about it, but yesterday, as I was sat jounralling about it in the Prayer Tent at New Wine, a child came up to me and said: ‘I want to pray because I miss my dogs Judah and Phoebe… Judah is in kennels but Phoebe has died. Nothing could ever replace Phoebe in my heart, she was a lovely dog’. I’m choosing to interpret that as God not minding that I’m upset, and I decided to write.
Jesus says ‘You can buy two birds for £1 from the market, and yet not one of them falls to the ground without the Father knowing about it’ (Poppy Paraphrase). God loves each and every creature he has made. Even the very annoying flies in the New Wine Rock Solid Cattle shed.
So, to the reason for the misspelling of the word ‘prodigal’. In the Bible, Jesus tells a story about a son who demanded an early inheritance from his Father. He took the money, headed for a party city and wasted the money in true party style. When the money ran out, the country he was living in had made some stupid political and economic decisions and there was a food shortage. The son ended up shovelling pig dung for less than minimum wage and then he realised that home wasn’t so bad, and even the very lowest of his Father’s employees were living like kings compared to him. So he went home. And his Father saw him coming when he was still a long way away. And his Father ran. He ran and embraced him. Not caring where he had been, what he had been up to, who he had been with, how much money he had wasted. He was just delighted to see him.
This is what God is like. This is what Jenna was like. I had some of my darkest, most prodigal moments while Jenna was a part of our family. She was always there, loving me regardless, at my worst and at my best. When I bombed my A levels, when I had a fight with a pavement, when I revised, when I went to Uni, when I came home. She slept on my bed keeping me company as I worked late into the night finishing my art coursework. She was always pleased to see me, no matter how old she got.
At Liverpool Cathedral on Thursday, I got a chance for my first proper look round. I came across this huge picture about the stalls.
It’s a picture of the story I’ve just told, and I came across it just after I’d had the idea about the ‘Porodgal’. Here is the son, the Father, the Mother, and the dog. The dog, in this interpretation, is ahead of the Father and Mother in running out to meet the brother she has missed so much. I saw it and thought to myself: ‘How perfect’.
For more info about greyhounds and the amazing pets they make, click here.