Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

“Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature, even a caterpillar, I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.” —Meister Eckhart

I named my first dog in the deli section of the Preston Royal Tom Thumb when I was 5 years old. We were adopting a beagle puppy (probably because of Snoopy). My mom had been bugging me to think of a name, but nothing was coming to mind.

So, we stopped at the grocery store bakery for a brownie and milk. Sitting there, enjoying my brownie, it dawned on me just how much I loved them. Brownies, that is. And so I called my first dog “Brownie.”

The memories we carry of our pets last a lifetime. In my years as a kid here in Preston Hollow, we had a whole zoo of animals: a dog, a cat, a turtle, fish (both in a bowl and an aquarium), numerous hamsters and three consecutive guinea pigs named “Charlie.”

The backyards of Preston Hollow generally are larger than those of many Dallas neighborhoods, making the area a wonderful place for people and their pets.

Flash forward to just a few years ago. Our church began doing an annual “Blessing of the Animals.” It’s always the first Sunday afternoon of November on the lawn outside the building. Folks bring all sorts of animals to be blessed by myself and members of our pastoral staff.

I must confess that I was skeptical of the event at first. But to my surprise, we had a nice turnout of furry friends and their people. And everybody, human and otherwise, behaved themselves.

Then came a year when our own dog, Grace, became very sick. She was 13, and she had cancer and several other problems. We brought her to the “Blessing of the Animals,” knowing it would be her last one. I gingerly lifted her out of the car. I asked other members of the staff to do the blessing for her, and I stood there blubbering. It was a surprising and unexpectedly strong reaction.

But it reminded me of the truth that we often are very close to our pets. They travel with us through life’s ups and downs. They often mirror our own emotional ups and downs, too. Our current dog, Daisy, is masterful at being able to lift us out of a funk just through her sunny disposition.

There’s an old prayer that is probably truer than we pretend: “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.”

In a way, our pets try to do the same things that the world’s great religions hope to achieve: They challenge us to be our best selves, our kindest selves, our most generous selves. Maybe that’s why so many of us are fans of both pet and religions.