It may help to know that my preferred spiritual practice is a Quaker/Pagan fusion. Quakers do not have a dictatorial religious doctrine that is handed down weekly from a pulpit or from a sacred book. While it is impossible to speak for all Quakers, as we have such varied beliefs and practices, most believe that the Divine speaks to us, as individuals. I believe that the Divine speaks to each with a particular “leading” or a message meant only for that one person. I believe this is the flaw with preaching. While sharing a leading from the Divine is called ministry, it would be a mistake for anyone to follow my path as the Divine has it laid for me and for me only.
The First Lesson
The first lesson is from my older lady dog Gabby who has since joined her other mother on the other side. Gabby used to pull on the lead while walking. Pulling on the lead is bad manners, as well as, dangerous. One way you train a pup not to pull is to put a pile of yummy treats on the floor, put her on the lead, show her the treats and walk her back 10 feet. Now patience. Gabby pulled and pulled. I waited and waited. Eventually, the lead goes slack and you walk the pup to the jackpot with much praising. Then you repeat the process. Eventually Gabby learned that she got what she wanted by walking beside me, not in front.
This process helped me to realize that in many ways, I am, spiritually speaking, a bad dog. I want to tell the Divine how I want it, where I want to go, and how I want things to turn out instead of waiting for Divine guidance and leading. This training exercise with Gabby taught me to wait upon the Divine and on her lead follow or walk beside her where she would lead me.
The Second Lesson
My second lesson is more recent and came from my big Mastiff mix pup named Sampson. In spite of being a big black dog with an imposing growl and frightening bark, he is quite a cream puff. He is terrified of thunder, lightning, fireworks, and other big noises. We live near Crew Stadium and the Ohio State Fairgrounds so we get our share of fireworks. Poor Sampson has been wearing a “thundershirt” for weeks now. A thundershirt compresses the dog and gives him a feeling of security. For Sampson it stops him from running wildly around the house looking for an escape route and allows him to settle down with his head on my lap.
When a recent powerful storm swept through Columbus with straight line winds of up to 70 MPH, I was at work, with the dogs at home. The storm caused part of a tree to hit my roof before landing in the neighbor’s yard, the transformer on the corner to blow up, and lawn furniture to slam against the house. When I arrived home, I found the dogs were all OK, but needed hugs and reassurance. Then I noticed that Sampson had taken his thundershirt into his crate. Smart boy. He knew that was part of the solution to his fear, but he lacked the ability to put it on himself.
Jeannette Birkhoff is a co-founder of Equality Ohio, a Member (clerk) of North Columbus Friends Meeting (Quakers), and a local artist. She is also known to some as the “pie lady” for her creative lobbying to get DOMA overturned by delivering homemade apple pies every hour on the hour to Ohio lawmakers.