“Called to be Love Dogs”
Hebrews 13:2; Readings from Barbara Brown Taylor and Rumi
By Don Ludwig, February 16, 2020
I love to people-watch when I am on vacation. On our flight to Portland from Costa Rica over a month ago, I noticed a 15-year-old boy board the plane. He looked to be traveling alone and very exhausted. Like we all do on airplanes, he made small talk with the people sitting beside him but for the most part, seemed emotionless. But when I watched him leave the plane, he walked straight to the baggage area just ahead of Kathy, Ciera, and Tony. When he saw his family and friends, he picked up the pace and started to run. It was the transformation that had captured his face that struck me. His countenance positively beamed! I have seen this transformation many times before, as I have no doubt carried that look on my face.
Our faces betray us in such instances. They positively glow. The joy they hold can’t be hidden. They demonstrate this person with whom we are reconnecting is someone whose presence feeds our very being, someone whose place in our life is essential, someone who fills the empty void of our lives. I have that glow, as do my friends in Idaho and Pennsylvania, when we reunite after many years of not seeing each other – we have taken different paths – we all look older and wiser – some of us greyer than others — but when we see each other, it seems like just yesterday when we were last together – we are not just friends of the road, we are friends of the heart.
If someone asked what my hope and dream was for Southminster, I’d say it would be to become the kind of place where old AND new people would be seen carrying that glow upon their faces — where transformations happen – where we are we are not only connected to each other but for each other! A place where we are not just friends of the road but friends of the heart.
One of the classes that I teach this term is World Religions. I have 30 students, only 4 who call themselves Christian. I thoroughly enjoy exploring faith from other religious and non-religious perspectives. When the class started I told the class that I am an Indigenous, Buddhist, Humanist, Christian with a non-master narrative theology. I certainly went on to explain what I meant by that — one student came up to me afterward and said — I never knew that Christians could be open-minded. I want to be your type of Christian. I am convinced that one of the ways we can be hospitable at Southminster is in fact in our progressive theology — we just need to find a way to show others what it means to be our type of Christian. We just need to find a way to share the glow on our faces.
As a part of my class when we talked about Islam for a week, I encouraged my students to read many of the Poems of Rumi. Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Rumi is the 13th-century Persian Sufi poet who was born in 1207 in a small village in what is now Tajikistan. Bill Moyers called Rumi “the most popular poet in America,” read and loved by seekers of all religions and no religion. One of the stories about Rumi captured me. At the age of 37, a husband and father, and a traditional Muslim preacher, Rumi had a transformative encounter with a wandering mystic, Shams of Tabriz.
Rumi and Shams, as one biographer writes, “have this electric friendship for three years — lover and beloved or disciple and sheik, it’s never clear. But, as a result. Rumi became a mystic himself. After three years Shams disappeared — “possibly murdered by a jealous son of Rumi, possibly teaching Rumi an important lesson in separation.” Rumi searched widely for Shams, arriving finally in Damascus, where he wrote:
“Why should I seek? (any longer)
I am the same as He.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.”
Rumi was a poet of both joy and love — he speaks from the heart — about his separation from things in this world and being reunited with self and the essence of creative love. Running through Rumi’s poems, never far in the background is the soul’s separation from God and the mutual yearning to reunite. OH, the mutual yearning. It is the same yearning when we try to connect ecstatically with this world in which we find ourselves immersed, the world that brought us into being and makes us who we are … and the world desperately yearns to connect with us too.
Rumi yearns for union with what he referred to as the “the Beloved” — he yearned for the God of love which is discovered in the face of others. In another one of his poems he writes about “glowing” when we are reunited with God — the essence of love:
“All day I think about it, then all night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing.
I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I am sure of that. And I intend to end up there.
(But this I know). Every morning we glow — and in the evening we glow again.”
Love Dogs who Glow
Thomas Merton once said that the “The desire to please God, pleases God.” This is what Rumi speaks about when he calls us to be Love Dogs who glow wherever we go. The longing for God itself is a sign of the loving presence of God already within us!!!!
I have become more keenly aware of what Rumi speaks about when our family got our first dog just last September. To be totally transparent, I should tell you that it was not my idea to get a family dog — I have never particularly liked dogs. You see, I had a paper route when I was in 8th grade (back in the day when teens had paper routes) and on my route was a home that never chained up their ferocious, diabolical even, monstrous, dog, if you ever have seen the movie Cujo, that is the kind of dog I am talking about. I would always be fearful of my life and I would devise ways to throw the paper onto the porch and run. As a result, I became a pretty fast runner!
But when we adopted Snowflake in September, all of my pent up fearful experiences about dogs suddenly changed. I have become a softy and love to have Snowy cuddle with me as I read or recline in the Family Room. I may be a bit biased, but Snowy is the cutest dog ever — I have been especially smitten by how every time I come home, she is always waiting at the door for me, tail swinging, longing for my arrival. I always wonder how long she has been sitting there, just waiting for me. I am convinced that when I open the door, she starts glowing.
As a church, we can practice longing and glowing — as Rumi poetically illustrates, by becoming Love Dogs. Love dogs yearn to be a family, with all the warmth and ease of people who have known each other for a long time and understand each other’s quirks. Love dogs feel that sense of family the moment others come in the door, like guests invited to a friend’s big Thanksgiving family dinner. If you’re new to the Southminster family, it necessarily will take a while for you to sort out all the “aunts and uncles,” and certainly to figure out who is and who is not related to Georgia Walp — but Love Dogs desperately want to belong. They don’t keep people out, they welcome people in.
I love to visit my mother-in-law in Pittsburgh as Kathy and I and the kids do every summer. She always prepares for our visit. In the guest bedroom, she will provide a mini-refrigerator stocked with diet Pepsi for me, and on the bed, she will have a bag of snickers bars for me and a bag of Gardetos for Kathy. For those that know me – snickers and Pepsi – I’m in heaven.
My mother-in-law treats everyone like that. She once told me that one of the best compliments she ever received came from an occasional visitor to her home who said, “Audrey, whenever I come into your house, I feel like taking my shoes off.” My mom smiles when she tells this story.; She says, “I told her, ‘Please do!’” She’s created a home that says to the sojourner, this is your home too. We want you to do what we do: take your shoes off. Put your feet up. If you get a hankering for a late-night snack, poke around in the fridge.
I recently heard a story about a little boy once who enjoyed his new baby sister for a week or two and then informed his parents, “Okay, you can send her back now.” They were a bit taken back, but not nearly as shocked as he was when they gently told him that she wasn’t just a visitor. She was a member of the family. For keeps. For better or for worse.It may take ten or twenty years, but he’ll be glad they didn’t “send her back.” Love Dogs, like my mother-in-law, long for guests to feel like they belong. For keeps.
Do we expect visitors at Southminster? Do we long for the arrival of guests to our community? What are we doing to make sure they feel welcomed and know that when they come here — this is For Keeps? Is our culture the kind that people are free to take their shoes off and be at home or are we too inward focused?
In Dorothy Bass’s book, “Practicing our Faith,” she says, “Many of us know that we should offer hospitality, but we wonder whether we can. Hospitality is made up of hard work, and without structures and commitments for welcoming strangers, fear often crowds out what needs to be done.” There is no doubt that we all have the capability of treating others like Angels – or perhaps in the way that we love to be treated, welcomed, and included. So, it’s not that we can’t do it or are ignorant but perhaps we don’t always have the proper structure or systems in place. Sometimes, it’s our fear or laziness or our complete self-focus that trips us up. Part of our journey over the next few months is to focus on how we are doing with hospitality as a church.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that “hospitality can be offered only by those who have found the center of their lives in their own hearts” Have you found the center of your life? What is it that you long for? Could it be that the longing itself is a sign of the loving presence of God already within You?
Friends, we called to be Love Dogs who have that special glow on our faces — we are people who long for the arrival of justice and liberation and compassion and redemption and equity for all — we long for the Beloved to become known in our lives and in the world. And we long for the arrival of those who will be considered family as soon as they step through that door. // The longing itself — is the realm of God in us and among us. In the words of Rumi,
“Listen to the moan of a dog for its master
That whining is the connection.
There are Love Dogs no one knows the names of.
(WILL YOU) Give your life to be one of them?”