NOTE: I post this blog today as it came sharply to mind over the weekend when our beloved little companion Rocky passed on to the next world.
When I was growing up and at school in the 60’s and 70’s, the prospect of a school retreat was a most exciting affair. Of course they were religious retreats and involved a bit of prayer and breaking into groups of six to discuss ‘The Compassionate Heart’ or some such – but mine was a feather-head (or so I’d been told by many a stern-faced teacher) and these retreats were a place where I could unleash my curious soul allowing something within me rise up to explore the potential for a life that didn’t depend on the rigid structure of school - that place dedicated to achieving grades which deliver a career which secures a future and station in life thus guaranteeing happiness.
I wasn’t a rebel. Far from it. But from my earliest days I was convinced that happiness was an inside job.
I was a dreamy kid, not really religious but content with knowing that we are joined in this life to an unseen world and I embraced the rituals that were part of school and community life. I loved the arrival of May and would eagerly fill a vase with wallflowers picked from our front garden placing it on the May alter I had made in my bedroom. It held a little statue of the Blessed Virgin and a holy picture or two which we school children received every once in a while from the Bishop.
We’d been told we could talk to the saints in prayer but I preferred to have proper conversations. I’d ask ‘Mary-Mother-of-God’ questions each day and I hoped she’d divulge to me who really shot the sainted President John F. Kennedy or what kind of punishment did Hitler get for his terrible sins. One year I was very worried about poor Judas. How could Jesus fulfil his prophesy if Judas hadnt agreed to be the bad guy and betray him with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane. However the question which preoccupied me most throughout my childhood was where do the animals go when they die. The Bible was very vague about dogs and cats and rabbits and things once the story about Noah and the Arc was out of the way.
Once a week, in the year leading up to our First Holy Communion my classroom at school was scrubbed clean, desks polished to a high shine and not a scrap of paper out of place in time to welcome the local clergyman whose task it was to prepare us for this most sacred of sacrements. We girls, hair brushed and neat as pins were the very model of virtue by the time the great man swept through the door. One of those days in particular will always stand out in my mind.
Father Dooley had just arrived and Sister Maria, our young teacher was neatening her habit pleats as she quietly took her seat at her desk. “As your priest,” said Father Dooley, “It is my job to explain to you what God wants you to know.” Perfect! I thought. I have something I want to know and this holy man can tell me. Before he could proceed any further, I waved my hand in the air and he turned smiling at me. “Father, do dogs and cats go to heaven?” I asked. The glint from the flash in Sister Maria’s eye slashed me from the far side of the room. Father Dooley took an enormous breath and seemed to grow by several feet. “Of course not.” he bellowed in response. “Havent I already told you that only those with the cleanest white souls can get through the gates of heaven. And dogs and cats do not have souls. Only the children of God have souls!!!"
Despite this loud and righteous response from the fine priest – it was something inside of me that registered loudest. A sensation that felt and sounded like the jarring claxon on a game show when a contestant gets the question wrong. NAH-HAH. WRONG!!!! As Father Dooley got his spiritual lesson underway, I pitied such clever and sincere people who had learned their catecism and bible so well but weren’t free to trust the wisdom of their own heart. They couldn’t dare to believe what I knew to be true. That of course all of God’s creatures go to heaven.
On that day, I couldn’t yet articulate it but I knew that although many learned and wise people will share their knowledge and experience of what they believe to be true, it’s only when a truth resonates positively within the depths of your being, you’ll recognise it as a pathway to your own sense of joy and purpose.
In his beautiful film, The Shift, the late Dr Wayne Dyer opens with a scene of him rising early and going quietly to his desk where he reads a short passage from a book and then moves into quiet meditation. His voice narrates this process which he would undertake every morning of his life. A kind of daily retreat where he would accesses the wisdom of his soul while connecting with Source.
Dr. Dyer (in the film), says that everyone has a destiny, a calling of the soul. Every bird, every tree, every person comes into the world with something it is destined to do or deliver to the world. “It is only we humans who tend to get confused and we slip into identifying ourselves with our outer symbols of success and achievement and loose touch with the extra-ordinaryness with which we were born.” Watching that film for the first time and hearing these words, I experienced a spiritual ah-ha! moment. I knew then that all living things other than we humans, can only be what they are. A daffodil does not try to be a rose or a bird try to be a spider. Neither does each think the other is better than, or less important than itself. Of course there’s no issue of these going to heaven. For they are so pure they are already living expressions of the grace of God!
A few years back I experienced my own shift or calling of the soul. I was experiencing a number of the markers of the midlife transition - empty nest, the passing on of the parents of both my husband and myself, and of course the inevitable menopause. Overtime, life had got in the way of that early childhood conviction that I’d know the great truths of the universe when I’d hear them and that I could be anything at all in the world I wished to be. I had come across Dr Dyer’s film on Youtube and as I watched the story unfold I felt that sense of absolute truth that we are spiritual beings inhabiting the many bodies of our lifetime. Each of us through our lifetime have the possibility of inhabiting many forms, that of a child, a teenager, a young mother, a mature woman - and here I was transitioning once again. I have since come to know that it’s no accident that as a woman moves beyond her reproductive years she inhabits the body of a Wise & Ageless Goddess who begins to understand her powerful connectedness to Source, the Universe, the Divine or God.
My spirit was here to experience an extraordinary life and it was time to return and reclaim the wholeness with which I was born.
The poet T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I was arriving at where I started.
Since then I, like Wayne Dyer and many others all over the world, set about preparing a ritual of early morning retreat. A little journalling, some affirmations and expressions of gratitude, a short meditation etc. and bit by bit over time, I was learning to pay attention to the inner wisdom and spiritual connection which every day opens or points to the pathway of the endless potential of all of God’s creatures. And in this I found a healing connectedness to every living thing.
Over the years I have been the proud owner/ parent of many waggy-tailed companions who’ve shared my world and when I return to the spiritual realms, I very much look forward to watching them run freely through sunlit meadows, ears flapping behind them in the way they would when they’d stick their head out of a moving car window. I’m looking forward to meeting up with Father Dooley again and I’ll thank him for his wisdom that day in the school classroom as it woke a desire to remain curious on my own spiritual quest. I may also ask him a very cheeky question and risk causing him to blush. How had he reacted as he reached the pearly gates and found himself sharing the queue with none other than the presbytery cat!