Two of my most faithful spiritual teachers have tall, pointy ears, rich, double coats and four sturdy legs. They are my corgis, Jack and Kelsey, and throughout the day they reinforce what I’ve learned in my early morning time with God and Scripture: Come, sit, stay.
This is also the title of a book on a deeper spiritual life by Ellen Vaughn. I was hooked not just by the title but by the picture of a beautiful golden retriever looking into the camera, relaxed, with liquid brown eyes. The subtitle of the book is, Finding Rest for your Soul.
Cats take their rest seriously, but dogs, not so much. They are more likely to rest if there is no one to play with them or they are catching their breath for the next adventure. That’s just one step from being like us humans, who are prone not to rest at all.
One of the first commands a puppy is taught is “Come.” It’s also known as the recall, which for me is deeply ingrained with spiritual images. It’s important for a dog to know when to come to the owner; it might be for a treat, it might be to save the dog’s life.
My dog friends and I have laughed over the term “emergency recall,” when you call your dog to you because it is an emergency and it has to come. In dog obedience, all recalls should be viewed that way. Jesus used the “recall” a lot.
One of Jesus’ most famous recalls was found in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus said, “Come to me.” And then he goes on to say that this recall is for all who “are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
Coming to Jesus is not just a treat. It is a lifesaver. I don’t know anyone who isn’t exhausted by all the demands of life or the demands they have put on themselves. And it is killing us. Science estimates that ours might be the first generation who will not exceed the life span of our parents’ generation. Our schedules have the potential to literally kill us. In Jesus we have the emergency recall, reminding us that coming to him is a lifesaver, as we put down our many burdens.
Once Jesus has our attention, the next part of the lesson is to sit. It isn’t enough just to come to Jesus – we need to sit and listen to what comes next.
In obedience, when you call your dog to you, it should end up seated before you. With my dogs, I have always called them back for some special reason. Maybe it was for a treat but maybe it was for a lesson, maybe for a hug. If you knew my dogs, you would know how comical all this could be, but I persevere.
In biblical times, students sat around their teachers. Come. Sit. When you are seated you are more likely to listen, especially when you are looking up at your teacher. When you sit at the feet of Jesus, listen to what he wants to tell you. He has many things to share with us, if only we can sit long enough to listen.
The last of these particular commands is “Stay.” I ask my dogs to stay by me. I love their company. I want them near for continued companionship. In obedience competition, your dog is supposed to walk right next to you, in step. My dog Jack has never really mastered this. When we walk into the obedience ring together, he is much more interested in what is on the ground, or he lags behind with a big grin on his face, while my face turns red with embarrassment over the poor performance of my “obedience” dog. But I still love Jack deeply and want him to be near me for that very reason. Does it take any imagination to make that leap of understanding that, if I want to be near one of God’s creatures, how much nearer does God want to be with me, his own creation?
Throughout my day, I use the commands “Come, sit, stay.” Each time I do, I hear God speak to me through those words – “Come to me.” Or as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
THE REV. CYNTHIA TAYLOR IS THE PASTOR OF CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.