Sunday, January 30, 2011

A New Priest and a Dog

Well, I didn't blog, did I? I really had intended to keep the blog going while I was in Kansas City, but it didn't work out that way. My time there was busier than I had counted on and the time for getting myself relaxed and centered for writing was quite limited, so I let it go. Now, with apologies for the absence, I'm back.

I had a great time, saw many friends and acquaintances, and had some really nice experiences, including the Asian galleries at the Nelson Atkins Museum (which has a world-famous Asian collection) and lunch at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and all sort of meals with old friends.

One of the highest points of the trip was an Ordination. My friend Michael Bell, whom I knew here in New York before he moved to the West Coast, and now to Kansas, was being ordained to the priesthood and had asked me to be one of the people who presented him for ordination and who vested him with his chasuble just after the ordination itself. I was really delighted to be asked, and moved my visit forward by a week to accommodate the occasion.

It was, in a word, wonderful. Bishop Wolfe has made ordinations in that Diocese into a sort of diocesan family reunion. Ordinations are now ordinarily at the Cathedral in Topeka and, to begin with, he expects all of the clergy of the Diocese to be present - and they respond in large numbers, so you begin with 60 or 70 priests and deacons, all gathered to welcome the newly ordained into their ranks.

At this service there were 6 people being ordained, 3 as priests and 3 as deacons, so with all of the people from the parishes that they represented, plus families, friends and well-wishers, Grace Cathedral, which is quite a large building, was jammed. And the congregation overflowed with that sort of laid-back friendliness and joy that Midwesterners specialize in for that sort of event. One of my friends said: "It felt like everyone was there because they wanted to be, not because they had to be - and that made such a difference." And it really did.

I had expected such a large ordination to be unwieldy and was half expecting that it would be more of a trial than a pleasure. But a pleasure it definitely was. The liturgy was beautifully organized and exactly suited the complexities of ordaining six people to two different Orders. The bishop's sermon was splendid - and he looks so much like a bishop when he's got up in his finery. The Cathedral choir is excellent, and they sang wonderfully. They also have two very fine organists, who saw to it that the organ pealed and thundered at all the appropriate places. Michael was radiant - he radiates especially well. Presenting him and vesting him was very moving.

The service did, in fact, take two hours, but I never once felt it was dragging, and was so happy to be there helping my friend get ordained.

I served the Diocese of Kansas for a number of years as a part-time consultant in the area of spiritual development, so I know it well, but even so, I wasn't prepared to see so many people I had known over the decades of my association with the Diocese. It was certainly a family reunion for me, and a very joyful one. I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Nor should I fail to mention how nice the reception after the service was and how plenteous the food, nor the fact that there were plenty of gluten-free choices on offer. You don't find that often at church gatherings, I can assure you.

Then just a few days later I had another treat given me - 2 days with Baxter, who is a Golden Retriever who belongs to my friends Doug and Kirk in whose condo I was staying for a while. They were both going to be gone on business for a couple of days in the middle of that week, and they asked if I would dog-sit.

Joy! I love dogs, and I'm very fond of Baxter. Baxter is also fond of me, but then he's a Golden Retriever, and if you're a person, a Golden will love you to death. That's just what they are like.

So Tuesday came and Doug and Kirk departed. Baxter moped. He was sociable enough, but he was definitely moping. He's a rescue dog. Though we don't know the story in detail, it looks like his old owners dumped him in a wooded area north of the City. He was found by a lady who lives in the area and she advertised and inquired and did everything she could to find who he belonged to, and finally, when she couldn't locate an owner, she offered him on Craig's List. And so he came to Kansas City.

The day passed. Baxter consoled himself by lying on the bed in the master bedroom. And then the end of the afternoon arrived and it was time for Baxter's walk and then his supper. I went into the bedroom and said: "Baxter, come." No response. "Walk" I said. He looked balefully at me and didn't move. And he practically dared me to do anything about it. "Your walk" I said, "You love your walk". No movement. "Supper", I said, thinking I might bribe him - if a Retriever loves anything more than people, it's food. Nothing. He wouldn't budge.

So I walked over to the bed. He raised his head, not in a friendly manner. I took hold of his collar and tugged. He did something I have never seen a Golden do - he growled. I said: "You have to come!" He growled more. I tugged harder. He snarled and then he bared his teeth. My friend Mark, who is a Vet, says that he's convinced that dogs who are abandoned never get over the experience. So here I was, confronted with an angry rescue dog of uncertain temper.

What do you do with 57 pounds of dog when he's snarling at you and won't take his walk? I briefly considered bribing him with food, but then decided to leave that go for a final desperation move. I went and got his leash. When I appeared at the bedroom door, he growled again. But then I held up the leash and dangled it in front of his nose. His ears went up. He moved on the bed. "Ha" I thought. Gradually I coaxed him out of the bedroom. By the time we got to the front door he was pretty lively, and he let me put the leash on him. "Victory!" I thought.

We had great fun on the walk. Baxter loves the snow. He puts his nose down and shovels the snow with it. Then he lies down and rolls around and covers himself with the snow. I took him to all his favorite places. I was forgiven.

When we came back to the condo he bounced. Supper-time. No hesitation here. I put the food in his bowl just like he expected and he wolfed it down. Enough food for a 57-pound dog and he got it down in less than a minute.

And then, having identified me as the person who was now supplying the walks and supper, he fell irretrievably in love. He followed me everywhere, and wouldn't let me get further away from him than about 18 inches. I was it, for the interim. He was total affection, in the way that only Goldens can be.

Rather to my surprise, he turned out to be a natural for meditation. I sat on a cushion on the floor in the living room and Baxter would wait until I got nicely settled and then come and lie down and put his head in my lap. And he never moved for the whole time. He was perfectly still and no distraction at all, and Baxter is normally a fairly restless dog. In fact he provided perfect warmth in that cold weather. "Oh yeah," Doug said when he returned. "He does that when I meditate, too."

This has given me something to reflect on about relationships - what it takes to get one going, and what happens afterward. I don't need to elaborate, I think. I'll just leave you with the picture of that formerly snarling beast, with his head in my lap while I prayed.

God bless Baxter.

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