Friday, May 11, 2018

A Void that Won't be Filled

The physical structure of the universe is love - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things - Pope Francis 

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love. 
A glimpse of pure love - Ogden Nash


Lynette and I can attest to the fact that grieving for the loss of a pet is tough. On the evening of 20th April, Pongo, our little boy miniature Yorkie, was killed. From being SO alive, he was suddenly so dead. The incomprehensible happened.

I had put his sister, Perdita in the car in the driveway (which is right next to the garden gate), and before I could reach down for Pongo, he slipped out and hurtled towards a dog across the road and straight into a speeding car. He was killed instantly.  I can still hear that awful thud. I still see myself screaming his name and rushing over to pick him up. He stayed warm and soft and cuddly for what seemed like ages, bled through three layers of my clothing to the spot where my heart is.  A neighbour fetched Lynette from her place of work and she was also able to hold and cuddle him. 

I feel guilt. I’ve been in a dwaal since then (Dwaal is an Afrikaans word for being in a daze, not present, unfocused, meandering, lost), and weepy. The doc prescribed some chill pills and they help. I teach others how to build resilience to change and adversity, but haven’t shown much myself.   


Pongo shadowed us and brought love and joy for 9 years. We bonded from 'day one' - "... the bond you form with that animal is irresistible, inexplicable, indefinable, and unbreakable".(1)   He was a spirited, inquisitive and ever-present companion. 24/7.  We miss him. Perdita (who hid under the car seat when she heard the accident bang) is lonely. 

We remember things like his melancholy look but joyful demeanour. His macho trot (He was about 20 cm tall and weighed a little over 3 kgs but acted as if he was 2m tall and weghed over100kg). If he took the lead down a known path, he would periodically stop to look around and make sure that we were following. When his tail wagged his whole body wagged. Every morning he came along to feed the garden birds. He’d push his toy box with his paw if he wanted to play, push his food bowl if he wanted more. Push the koi fish down if they came too close to the surface for his liking. Pawed us for attention if he wanted his chest and tummy scratched. Pawed the sliding door if he wanted it opened so that he could go outside. Even pushed the tortoises to stop them from fighting. He would lie on our clothes while waiting for us to finish showering or bathing. 

During the night Pongo would stand between me and my bedside table if he wanted water. He was very attuned to us, sensitive to our expressions, gestures, body language and voice changes – and would raise his ears, cock his head when trying to understand what we were saying to him. He had a knack of calming us if we were uptight. And he was extremely protective of us. 
If we were lying down or seated, he had a habit of throwing himself down to lie next to us, always making close body contact with a gentle bump. 

During Lynette’s time of being off work for nearly three years with depression, Pongo never left her side, was therapy. A ministry. In recent years as he got older, Pongo did slow down a bit – for example, he had a bit more difficulty jumping up onto the couch. 

On the afternoon that he died he did something that he hadn’t done for over two years – he brought a ball to me, pushed it around with his paws, and barked at me until I played ball with him. Thinking back, it seems like a goodbye gesture.  


Theologians debate and argue finer points, in the process sometimes losing essential meaning: for example, should we believe in infant or believer’s baptism, use water or not, and if so should the act be one of immersion, pouring, sprinkling ……..?   I have no wish to enter into nor invite any intellectual debate about a pet’s soul, spirit, capacity to reason, show real love (not attributed by nor projected by us humans), doing wilful wrong,.... Or having a place in 'heaven' or the afterlife (however we define or understand it). Because we are told otherwise by 'learned' people - who claim to know not only about body and mind but also have the answers to all soul and spirit matters.

They offer thoughts such as: humans have individual, 'rational' souls that survive death, and animals have only lesser, 'sensitive' souls or collective (non-individual) souls. An anthropocentric view to say the least ....

This is what we learned, experienced and grew to believe during our relationship with Pongo:

He was a wonderful, God-created being. He learned. Adapted his behaviour. Trusted fully. Expressed his emotions. (Carl Jung sensed that “Even domestic animals, to whom we erroneously deny a conscience, have complexes and moral reactions”, (2) and the young Jung recorded, “Because they are so closely akin to us and share our unknowingness, I loved all warm-blooded animals who have souls like ourselves and with whom, so I thought, we have an instinctive understanding”.) (3). 

Pongo loved unconditionally, consistently, transcendentally, and knew no deceit, only total transparency and honesty.  

We had times of uninterrupted, complete present-moment shared connection, clarity, peace, purity, an interchange of consciousness (which is a natural and shared thing). In this context Eckhart Tolle has referred to dogs as “guardians of our being”.(4)  They help us to be more mindful, and to practice and develop a greater capacity for love. I think that they teach us, in our digital, lonely and alienated world, the characteristics of attention, affection, and unbounded joy. 
(Neuroscientists say that distracting one’s brain in this way frees it to subconsciously get on with other crucial stuff without being hampered in any way, but rather, in a focused, more productive manner)


Can relationships (including one with a pet companion) continue after the ‘boundary’ of death has been crossed - not to cling to something that has passed, but to experience a release into something better? 
In the Creator’s “… hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (Job 7:10) and surely His life, spirit and love are contained in every aspect of nature and all living beings?   Man and animals have been interconnected from the start, and will remain so.  Call me a heretic but I believe that although the physical 

Pongo may be gone, yet his spiritedness/ energy/ love/ essence/ memory/ presence/ his “thisness” (to use a word coined by the theologian-philosopher Duns Scotus), are still part of the evolving universe.  In terms of the new quantum physics, are matter and spirit not one and the same (as in the Genesis story and some New Testament miracles)? 

Richard Rohr is clear that “each living thing reveals some aspect of God …. 
When you love something, you grant it soul, you see its soul, and you let its soul touch yours. You must love something deeply to know its soul…. Before the resonance of love, you are largely blind to the meaning, value, and power of ordinary things to “save” you—to help you live in union with the source of all being. In fact, until you can appreciate and even delight in the soul of other things, even trees and animals, I doubt if you have discovered your own soul either. Soul knows soul”. (5)

For us Pongo acted as a bridge that connected the secular to the sacred.

The Pope has said “… all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God”. (6) 

Sister, Professor Ilia Delio, writing eloquently from the heart about the death of her cat: “Mango was ensouled…. divine mystery is expressed in each concrete existence. Soul is the mirror of creaturely relatedness that reflects the vitality of divine Love ….  Soul existence is expressed in the language of love ...
Teilhard de Chardin realized that the prime energy of the universe is love, unitive energy that unites center to center, generating more being and life. Love is not a thought or an idea, it is the transcendent dimension of life itself, that which reaches out to another, touches the other and is touched by the other…
If God is love then the vitality of love, even the love of a furry creature, is the dynamic presence of God… the Spirit of God is present in love … his (Mango’s) core love-energy will endure. His life has been inscribed on mine; the memory of his life is entangled with my own. My heart grieves for my little brother, my faithful companion, but I believe we are intertwined forever and shall be reunited in God’s eternal embrace”. (7)    Yes!


Pongo lived to the full and then died suddenly without being subject to any suffering. Lynette and I are grateful for that.

We identify with what actor Jimmy Stewart said about the void left by his dog Beau: “After he died there were a lot of nights when I was certain that I could feel him get into bed beside me and I would reach out and pat his head….   But he's not there.  Oh, how I wish that wasn't so ….”  (8)

To cut through the horrible images of the way Pongo was killed, hurtling into a speeding car - every time this replays in my mind I deliberately trigger substitute images – and imagine him bounding towards, to play with St Francis, the patron saint of nature and animals (who called animals his brothers and sisters).  For me this is a helpful fantasy-reality.  I am trying a somatics practice to counter depression, by stroking Pongo against my chest when I feel teary. He is in my heart and my heart knows.  Sometimes I will look deeply at his picture to go beyond the intellectual and access the inherent God-sourced qualities that he (He) kept on giving and giving, and still does – to ‘see’ with the heart.   
A clinical psychologist has wisely suggested that I write Pongo a letter ….
And I recall the words of an old Vera Lynn song:
“We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when” ...................  (9)

And just maybe there is something in this Wintley Phipp's quote: “It is in the quiet crucible of your personal private suffering that your noblest dreams are born and God’s greatest gifts are given in compensation for what you’ve been through”

1. Walsch, Neale Donald   FaceBook  March 17th, 2013  
2. Jung, C.G. Civilization in Transition (Collected Works Volume 10) Translated by Adler, Gerhard &   Hull, R.F.C     Bollingen Foundation/ Princeton University Press   1964
3. Jung, C.G   Memories Dreams, Reflections, Recorded and edited by Aniela JaffĂ©. Translated from the German by Richard & Clara Winston Flamingo, 1990.
4.Tolle, Eckhart    … giving pointers on letting your dog go
5.Rohr, Richard  Newsletter 11th March, 2018 ; Nature Is Ensouled
6.Pope Francis  Encyclical    Laudato Si: 47 and 244
7. Delio, Ilia Prof     Brother Mango and Eternal Life
9. Parker, Ross & Charles, Hugh  (1939)    We’ll Meet Again