My most trusted prayer partner never said a prayer in his life. He didn’t offer to pray for me or tell me his prayer list. He often would interrupt my prayers with a bathroom break or a loud yell.
Henry was our long time dog who died this past Sunday. Unlike typical dogs that could just run out into the back yard when he needed to relieve himself, Henry had his own special circumstance. He never liked the neighbor dogs and his trips to the backyard would turn into a bark fest or worse, the neighbor dogs would dig underneath our fence to get in our yard to go after Henry. To avoid this headache, I would take Henry to the front yard when he needed to relieve himself and often for extended walks.
It was in these daily trips down the street or around the corner that I would often pray. I remember one dark, dark season when Henry and I would spend multiple times a day walking and praying. I would go through my typical liturgy – “Father, may your will be done in my life. May I be made well. May I find joy and peace. And may I know the extent of your love for me.” Then, I would repeat the prayer but with the names of a family member or a person in need.
It is easier for me to pray while walking and Henry gave me the excuse to get outside, move my body, see God’s creation, listen to the sounds of nature and to have a moment of silent reflection and calm. Henry also gave me a chance to connect with my neighbors, something I am not very good at. People began to recognize us, stop and talk with us, and comment on Henry’s demeanor and cuteness. Our walks broke down the defenses that we so easily construct among those that we don’t know that well. I started to pray for these people too thanks to Henry.
These walks with Henry became sacred during difficult times as I longed for moments with God and cried out to him. On many of those walks, I would pray and know that I am being heard and I would hear from God and I would experience his comfort and peace. Henry probably felt it too but he never said. He just kept sniffing some unseen trail that was surely going to lead him to a cat or a squirrel. Sometimes, I had to break up dog fights during these walks and I picked up so much poop as proof of my reluctant neighborliness.
In the last few years, my daughters started to join me on some of these nighttime walks and we got to chat about the day and let conversations lead to heavier subjects and deeper life issues. Occasionally, I could offer a few Christ centered points of emphasis that I hoped helped them and reminded them of God’s love and his plan for their life. Henry’s role in these conversations was body guard, tracker, and trail leader. He always had to be in front of the pack. He was in charge of these walks and nothing was going to change that.
Now that he is gone, I will need to find other ways to be intentional about my prayer life. I will need to find other means of experiencing nature and listening to God. Henry was always my prayer partner and I don’t know if I will find another one like him. So many times, I needed to get out of my head, I needed a new focus, I needed to be reminded that life can be as simple as walking to the next yard and finding the moon in the sky. Henry and I, so many times, were able to reduce this complex world to just the air we breathe, the God who sees us, and the next turn down the street.
I will miss my prayer partner and his irreverence and stubbornness. He never judged my prayers or made me feel guilty. He just took me on daily reminders that life is better with a dog, that God provides interesting companions, and that fresh air and prayer can cure a multitude of things.