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A Dog’s Contemplative Wisdom

It is morning in Indiana, dawning a new day of liberating nothingness, where we’ll gauge the day’s success through a holiday filter: by euchre records, by loners won, by chocolate wrappers, by bottles in the recycling bin, by laughter, by joyful tears. I trust no preacher, no zealot’s shaming of gluttony if they have not experienced Christmas in Indiana. I trust no one who shames heaven, for that’s what devils do, jealous of all the joyful saints around the table at the banquet.

The pandemic has only freed us to be more lazy, more gluttonous, to refrain from making plans and simply remain at home with immediate family. As we crowd around the island to do what we did yesterday—to eat, to drink, to play boardgames and cards—my twenty-five pound shepherd-beagle, Bailee Mae, has already assumed her quiet perch, there in her favorite spot in the entire world, on a rug in front of the sliding-glass door of my parents’ ranch house.

She sits perfectly still, looking out at the backyard and the acres of plowed soybean fields behind the barn, stretching out like the desert. I watch her with intrigue. She sat there yesterday and the day before that, perfectly content, noticing every detail in creation’s natural unfolding. The wind blows; her head tilts. A bird glides by; her eyes shift. Thin clouds disperse; she glances up. She sees it all, just as it is.

Bailee Mae is a city pup, but not by choice. If she could have things her way, she’d live right here, with my parents, smack-dab in the country, surrounded by the quiet peace of Hoosier farmland. If she could have things her way, she’d be a country pup. I live in the city because I like the lifestyle, I suppose. I like to walk or take the train wherever I want, to be surrounded by people and by culture, to always have something new to experience—something to do—but Bailee Mae is not as captivated by the city sights and sounds. She just sleeps all day back home. Here she binge-watches the cosmos through a window.

She is the ultimate contemplative, I think to myself. Content to be who she is, where she is, present to the unfolding mystery on the other side of the glass. She has not overcomplicated life with distractions and demands, with projections or performance, with going somewhere or climbing something or obsessing about the future. She is here, present at the window. It is enough.

Laughter stirs at the island after a wild euchre hand. Bailee Mae glances back to make sure everything is okay. She notices Mom is scrambling eggs. She leaves her perch. Now she sits at the stove, looking up at Mom with her brown marble eyes. She exists to love and to be loved, a profound, yet simple disposition, that would solve all the world’s problems. God met us where we are in our humanity through Jesus but already perfected the incarnation through dogs. Bailee Mae is unashamedly herself, and this day is hers, bursting with a love that is to be fully experienced.

She gets the first batch of eggs. We expect just as much.

Then my pup returns to the rug at the glass door. Of course. But this time she sits with a more upright spine, with an eagerness, as if this brand new day was gifted entirely for her, as if she’s on the edge of a cliff, about to dive into a sea of grace.

For a second I get down on myself as I watch. Just this morning, though I was surrounded by grace as well—all these people whom I love—though I too stood on the edge of a brand new day—the joy of the holidays—I began to play the “head games” I so often play: judging myself for my seeming lack of progress that year, the unaccomplished goals, the unmet expectations.

Why can’t I just be more like Bailee Mae?

Suddenly Bailee Mae begins to whimper. She rises up on her hind legs. She paws at the door, smudging the glass. Now her whimpers are out of control—pathetic squeals as she begs to go outside. What has gotten into her?

I go to the door and let her out. As she darts off toward the field, showcasing her athleticism and the fullness of her stride, her eyes locked ahead like a missile, I am terrified by the scene and simultaneously filled with grace for myself, as I, too, hear my Master gently laughing and yelling, “Come back! Come back! It’s just a squirrel!”

By Stephen Copeland

This story was first published on


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