As I write this, my dog Skip is curled up by my side keeping me warm and catching a cat nap. I love dogs. Almost all of my fondest memories include them. I am amazed by their capacity to love, to nurture and comfort, to make life more fun.
So when I listened to Andrew Root on a podcast tell the story behind writing The Grace of Dogs, I knew it had to be my first read of 2018.
Root has two children and works as a theologian. His lab, Kirby, got sick suddenly and the family was called in to say goodbye. Root's young son, Owen, spontaneously gave the dying dog communion.
“Owen walked out to the lobby and returned with a dog treat and a paper cup he’d filled with water. Silently and purposefully, he knelt before Kirby’s body, placed the tiny dog bone on Kirby’s back, and, dipping his finger in the water, reverently made the sign of the cross on Kirby’s forehead. Then he lifted his hands to heaven like a priest at the altar, looked up, and whispered, ‘I love you, Kirby. Goodbye.’”
That moment haunted Root and in the days following Kirby's death, he was inspired to write The Grace of Dogs.
Researched like a meticulous theologian, Root dives into the history of dogs and humans. He uses a cerebral approach to put words to a subject that reaches deep into our souls and psyches.
“When I see a dog bowing in play, I’m reminded that doggy play with humans is actually part of a more meaningful act, a spiritual one that ties us more closely to each other and that leads us deeper into mystery and wonder, maybe even to touching the bliss of God.”
Our love of dogs defies words yet Root puts forth some theories on how this phenomenon evolved and why. I'm glad I invested the time to read these theories and learn more about the heart behind the relationship.
Root discusses the power of face to face connection with our dogs, the calming we experience when our dog is by our side, the healing presence our pets offer us in times of distress or grief. He connects these gifts as the way God ministers to us and admits it is the theologian in him that sees such.
Root is a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, whose research explores common life experiences, searching for their theological and spiritual meaning. In The Grace of Dogs, he has more than succeeded.
Root addresses the question we all hold even if we loathe admitting it: Will we see our dogs in heaven?
Root admits his own difficulty in answering that question for his son. He relays a story told of German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when a weeping ten-year-old boy asked him the same question of his dog, named Mr. Wolf. Bonhoeffer explained in a letter to a friend that he felt dumbfounded and inept at answering this question. Bonhoeffer’s answer? “We know that you loved Mr. Wolf, and we know that God loves you. And we know that God loves all the animals. So, yes, yes, I think you will indeed see Mr. Wolf in heaven, for I believe that God loses nothing that God loves.”
The Grace of Dogs
A native of the Mississippi Delta, Gigi McMurray is a nurse practitioner outside Nashville, a passionate, thoughtful reader, and a dog and boy lover. She is married with three boys and a daughter-in-law. Below is Gigi's beloved Skip.