US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What a devoted dog can teach us about Christ’s love

The synchronization between shepherd and sheepdog provides a glimpse of Trinity.

By Sue Stanton | Print this pagePrint |
Article Your Faith

Once on a bus ride through the lush green hills of Jordan, on the side of the road I saw a border collie like mine. It was standing quietly next to a young Bedouin shepherd busily moving his hands as he spoke to an older man. I watched the dog’s head turn slow and steady. Scanning from side to side, the black and white gazed into the flock of sheep that stretched out before it.

With an instinct finely tuned over the ages, the dog watched for any temptation that might cause one of the sheep to wander off and out of sight. I looked on in amazement at the power of corrective energy being practiced before my eyes, unnoticed by the others near me. It was a light and subtle sketch of the use of power, a hidden declaration of ready courage, steadfast faithfulness, and the commitment to fair consistency that gave safety to those surrounded by its care. 

The men were smiling and waved as my bus drove out of sight. The sheep were all calm. The border collie was ever vigilant. 

In a heartbeat, I knew I had witnessed something spiritual and holy. Something I knew as Trinity. 

Back home from Jordan, I decided to see for myself how my own border collie, Biddy, would work a field of sheep. Biddy arrived in our family years ago as the inspiration of a young veterinary student from Australia who was living with us for a semester. She had three border collies back home and missed them as you would a child. When she stumbled upon a farmer who had a litter during her stay with us, we found ourselves suddenly living life with a dog far smarter than we were.

Yes, Biddy had the unbelievable verbal memory for which border collies are famous. You had to be very careful around her. When she eventually heard swear words come from my mouth, she was confused, since she was waiting to learn a word linked to an action.  
And action is what she was constantly looking for. 

Once a friend directed me to a farmer who agreed to have us wreak chaos on his flock of sheep, and off we went. Always a skeptic, I wanted to see if my border collie had the same right stuff as the border collie in Jordan. It came close to feeling like a national duty. But as Biddy jumped out of the car, it didn’t take her long. Within 30 seconds, she had penned the sheep, backed them into a corner, and held them so tightly they couldn’t move.

“How does she get the sheep out of there?” I asked the farmer next to me.

“She doesn’t. That’s what I do,” he said.

Another heartbeat. Another Trinity moment.

Driving Biddy home, I remembered another visit to the Middle East, traveling by car one evening through a small Palestinian village. It was almost dark. In front of our stopped car stood a shepherd, alone, opening the gate to the communal village pen built of sturdy stone walls. 

Suddenly behind us, down the dusty road hustled dozens of sheep, charging for the open gate, eager to get enclosed and safe for the night. The shepherd stood near us, his hand on the gate. One by one, the sheep came in front of us and through the gate, now safe from the unseen terrors of the night. They were confident, seeing their shepherd before them, hearing the sound of his whistle and voice. But behind them came a driving spirit—a dog filled with the mission of its work and a job well done one more time at the end of the day. 

Many of us have our favorite pet stories. Ten years after Biddy’s death, I am now awaiting the moment we welcome another puppy into our lives. As I wait, I cannot help but reminisce and place Biddy high in the pantheon of dogs I have owned over a lifetime. I admired her tremendously for her endless work ethic. She opened up for me the gospel of the Good Shepherd. 

I do believe Jesus must have been a keen observer of shepherds. “When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).

Through the darkness of night, I can envision Jesus opening the gate, the gate of such meaning—consistency, faithfulness, fulfillment, comfort, home. But now that story holds for me more fullness and meaning of the driving force we receive from the Spirit that surrounds us, even pushes us from behind.

I don’t know what happens after we die, but in my heart I believe that Biddy, tail wagging, ears up, tongue hanging off to the side, is herding one very large celestial flock.

 

This article also appears in the June 2020 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 85, No. 6, pages 30-31). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: iStock

Published: 
Friday, June 12, 2020

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