Barking Dogs

January 29, 2009

Every neighborhood has two types of dogs.

There are the quiet, submissive dogs that slink with their tails between their legs along the invisible border of the electric fence.  These are the dogs that gaze at you with wet eyes and look as if the fate of the free world is balanced between their shoulder blades.

There are also the barking dogs.  They cannot help but bark.  They cannot stop.  Their owners yell at them from front porches and back decks–“Shut up, you stupid dog!”  Their owners apologize when they have dinner guests:  “We got her at the shelter and think she might have been abused.” They plead with their dogs and try to soothe them:  “Sophie, be quiet.  Honey, it’s okay.  Please–stop–barking.  You be nice and come over here an say hello to Mommy’s friends.”  

Of course barking dogs could care less about our complicated systems of etiquette and decorum.  The only things that actually concern barking dogs are longer opportunities to bark.  Barking dogs arrange all sorts of growls, whines, woofs, and howls to serve the occasion: cars, oh yes, cars, they get barked; mothers pushing strollers; families riding bikes; and other dogs.  The apex of pleasure for a barking dog is the chance to bark at another dog.  More important than the sex of the victim or even the victim’s proximity to the barking dog is that nothing, especially another dog, gain passage through the barking dog’s dominion without proper abuse.

I have stared at a dog trembling with anger because, well, I don’t know, because I exist?  It would bark at me for standing nearby until one of us was dead.  I stop for a moment to contemplate the situation:  Why does he bark?  Most if not all dogs have the capacity.  A barking dog is a mystery.  Why is he unable to control himself?  He may bark out of fear or protective instinct or doggie joy, but I suspect there’s more to it.  I suspect he barks because he must.  Barking dogs have to bark.  I stand beside my truck or where I stopped my walk and consider this creature as he arranges another masterpiece.

His commitment to barking is beautiful.  That he even look at me while he barks is unnecessary.  He may pace, wearing a rut in the lawn, or he may bark over his shoulder as he walks away.  But he barks.  Why does he bark if the barking is not about me or even about him?

I understand him.  I write because I must.  I cannot help it.  Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go through life as a person uninterested in writing, a quiet dog.  Of course here the metaphor breaks down, as all metaphors must.  The two categories of dogs do overlap. Sometimes the quiet dog musters a yip or two.  Sometimes the barking dog finds better amusement than harassing every passer-by.  I am not saying that people for whom writing holds no special allure are quiet or submissive.

I used to speculate why I derived from writing such intense and consistent enjoyment.  The operation is simple enough:  stringing together words to form sentences and paragraphs, to ultimately capture and convey an image or idea or coherent thought, to produce a moving piece of writing that bore something of me, of my heart and mind and soul.  But why?

I now feel less compelled to identify my motives, hidden and explicit, as if doing so would matter to anyone but me in the first place.  Even as I use words to capture certain experiences or exercises in contemplation, I feel less inclined to isolate why expressing myself was so important to begin with.

That I am a child of God, reborn in Christ, engaged in acts of imagination and creation is enough, is an end of itself.  When Moses asked God, materially present in a burning bush, who He was, God responded, “I am that I Am.”  He was sufficient unto Himself to explain Himself. Peace comes when we cease seeking to understand layers of hidden motives and agendas for our every action and behavior and instead turn to contemplate God’s love.  When we move past morbid introspection, and instead dwell on God’s divine life within us, we hand over the need to take care of ourselves, fix ourselves, and protect ourselves.  We concern ourselves less with doing and more with simply being.

Barking dogs bark because they must.  I write because I must.  I write because I am.  Somehow as the Father’s love flowed to His Son and is the Holy Spirit, in the first act of love in an infinity of beginnings, and then the Godhead breathed life into us in an act of love and power, we received God’s character and image, Imago Dei.  We all carry a portion of God’s mystery.  We must create  because we are born of and sustained by God’s love and power.  If at first I wrote out of fear or joy, I now understand that I create because I was created.

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