I have a dog called Timmy. Just writing it makes me feel amazed. All those years of reading ‘The Famous Five’ and dreaming of having a dog called Timmy, and when I was 40 my dreams finally came true.
Here he is.
Timmy is on the left. He is very big, and gentle, and kind.
And the sweet little brown and white character on the right is Ben, but more about Ben another time.
This is about Timmy. Who is far too prone to raid the bin, and moults everywhere, but is patient and very good at loving and being loved by everyone. Who really helped my lovely, heart-broken father in law who came to live with us after he was widowed, just by sitting beside him and sharing his toast. Who has gorgeous eyes and a cold nose and a very waggy tail, and is one of this world’s optimists.
Who reminds me of something the writer and 20th century American Roman Catholic monk, Thomas Merton said. He said that animals and plants give glory to God just by being themselves – they are purely who they were meant to be – and so they are, in a sense, saints.
I love Thomas Merton’s spirituality. I love the fact that he changed his mind as he grew older, and wasn’t embarrassed to admit it. He had a ‘wild’ life before his conversion to Catholicism, and then, typically, chose to continue that need to take everything to extremes and joined an extremely strict order of Roman Catholic monks called Trappists. Which is when he began to write in earnest, had a sort of breakdown because he was unreasonable to himself and to others in his piety, and emerged from it still a Trappist monk, but a more compassionate, more loving, often difficult and argumentative person, not always easy to live with, but always trying to be honest, and his true self. You can see his developing spirituality evolve through his writings, and you can see him grow from book to book and change from a rather pious Catholic writer to someone who became more and more open to the world, to other people, to other religions, whilst keeping and deepening his own personal religious faith. At the end of his life he was in very close dialogue with Buddhists, and, by then an influential writer, became very involved in marching against the Vietnam war. Monica Furlong wrote a fascinating biography of Thomas Merton, and many others have written about him, not least the brilliant former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in his book ‘A Silent Action’.
And I think it is lovely to think about what he said – that all we need to be, is just to be ourselves. To be unselfconsciously loved and loving in the way that a big old soppy golden retriever is. It is much more difficult, Thomas Merton said, for humans to be the true selves they were created to be, than for trees and animals. But it’s a good aspiration.
Which is why, trying to copy Ethiopian art, I painted this, not to offend anyone, but to remind me of what Thomas Merton said about holiness, especially in his book ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’, which, sadly seems to be only available second hand .
(I gave Saint Timmy a bone, but it didn’t come out very well in the photo.)
I’ll have to paint St Ben next!