Recently, I went camping with my curly tailed, yellow lab, adopted, mixed breed named Sophie. Just Sophie and me, tromping through the woods and setting up camp on an expedition to invite our demons to meet us somewhere between nature and solitude, where God could properly greet them. We were successful, I think.
Sophie was having a great deal of trouble being bound to the leash and her spirit desired, as mine, to wander (yes, I agree with C.S. Lewis, dogs have a spirit, too, and they are somehow, mysteriously, connected to ours.) Even after many walks to the lake, she was still restless. Exhausted by her constant nagging, I relented and thought, “let’s just see how she does off leash, maybe she’s getting better.” Right. Her ongoing seduction-by-squirrel tail got the best of her and at the first sight of fur flirting from the distance, she darted off into the never ending woods, disappearing behind that comfortable veil between cozy campground and wilderness. Out of sight, gone. I knew this would happen.
I have lost dogs before, running off is simply what dogs do. I have always found them. But Sophie had me worried. She is a peculiar dog with a still young and unhealed trauma from her youth, having been left for dead in a state park and then picked up only to be put on doggie death row, rescued by an adoption agency named after Proverbs 12:10, and then found her way into my home; actually, it was my lap that she would not leave for 20 minutes at the adoption agency whereupon she staked her claim on my heart.
Her first two years were trying, but long hikes in the woods were great therapy being set free under my watch to roam shallow creek beds, chasing tadpoles, she seemed to have found herself. In turn, her great wound helped me locate my inner child that longed to roam the woods again, unfettered. This wasn’t an easily earned off leash moment for either of us, this moment had taken years.
When she disappeared into the vast woods, taking no account of me, I nearly lost heart. There was no sight of a gold flash or her trademark bouncing, curly tail. I turned slowly to my fire pit where I had begun to build a small fire, finished stoking it and prayed. Something I’ve learned to do in just about every moment of uncertainty. Burn something, sage, cedar, a candle, build a small altar and pray. I prayed to St. Francis, patron saint of animals and lost causes. I prayed to God naming God many names, Wakan-Tanka, the Lakota God, I prayed to the Persons of the Four Directions, I prayed to Grandmother Earth. When you are in nature, God is present everywhere, and so the committee came together, a band of shepherds, we set out calling.
I sensed a direction and moved towards it, actually I ran at a steady pace until I arrived. When I got there, I began yelling “Sophie, Sophie,” in a high pitch so the sound would carry more readily through the woods. It seemed to be falling dead and so I did the next best thing, I began singing her name, only singing the word Sophia instead of Sophie because it rang out a bit more. Adding the “a” at the end sounded kind of like the Ricola commercial, I thought, still I held out the middle initial and let it ring. I hadn’t been singing more than a minute when suddenly, a few deer appeared from the thicket of the woods, I hadn’t even seen them there, their large eyes shining and their heads tilting in an expression I can only describe as bright curiosity. I kept on singing and wandered how close they would come. They all came trotting towards me, four of them, curious about the Ricola/Sophia song. Then, as quickly as they had come, realizing I was just another person, they floated off in the other direction, one falling in after the other and a couple more came along after them. I watched their furry tails float past and stood in awe. As they passed, there was a hushed stillness, and I felt the presence of God in it. I turned my head to the right, in the direction they ran, and thought, “they are helping me……well, Sophie is either in the direction they are going or she is behind them.” Then I turned my head, or rather my head seemed to be gently turned in the direction behind them and there she was, cowering in the woods, she had seen me. I thought she would be happy for her adventure, but instead she was completely spent, breathing heavily and seemingly in a state of the shock, she had the look of the lost. She had also rolled in something dead.
She came to me readily, panting heavily, exhausted and I walked her down to the lake to let her soothe herself. I did not chastise her, it seemed pointless. I did not congratulate her, either, I simply connected her to the leash gently and clicked in to the familiar safety of our connection. She swam and drank and took huge sighs of relief in the water.
I thanked my cosmic committee and returned to my fire ring at my campsite. We were both exhausted and sank down into our bones. I noticed, as the sun was setting over the lake, and in between two long, narrow trees, there was a doorway of pure, golden light that stretched out like a trail on the water’s surface over the lake straight into the sun itself. I wondered if I could walk through this doorway of light, but it was only open for a few minutes before it faded from view. Perhaps this is how Sophie feels when she sees a squirrel.
Later on, I reflected on that moment in the woods when I was singing Sophia. Sophia, the ancient word for Wisdom, I thought, I was singing the ancient word. Wisdom that was with God as the Word of creation (John 1:1); Wisdom, the feminine force that inspired God’s handiwork, dancing beside him, God’s “master worker, God’s daily delight.” (Proverbs 8:29, 30). She sings in me, Sophia, Wisdom, the Divine Feminine, is this a word that the four leggeds know?
Did Wisdom sing God into the world or did God breathe Wisdom into the song of the earth? Hushed stillness in the wake of leaping deer, the golden doorway of the setting sun, the fire’s crackling energy, the quiet, the earth, the seeking and the finding and the losing again, the slipping behind the veil.
Sometimes, getting lost is irresistible. Sometimes, having an in depth encounter with Wisdom requires it. Sometimes, we need the four leggeds to help us see (and believe) Wisdom’s world, behind the veil.