brian j plachta
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God Spelled Backwards
by brian j plachta on December 4th, 2016

​My buddy and I were talking the other day as we sat and watched my dog Riley chewing on a stick in my backyard.  “I think Riley’s a metaphor for God,” said my buddy.  “The closest example of unconditional love I’ve ever experienced.”
            Riley’s got a heart as big as his appetite. He’s strong, forgiving, patient, and has a fun, playful spirit.  Sometimes Riley looks like a wise sage as he lays his head on my lap gazing out the window. It’s as if he’s pondering life. His chestnut golden retriever eyes whisper, “I love you,” every time he looks my way. “I wonder,” my buddy said, “if it’s more than a coincidence that the word dog is God spelled backwards.”
            I got to thinking maybe my friend’s onto something.  Maybe he’s right. It’s important to revisit our image of God from time to time, to allow ourselves to define and deepen our relationship with him through words, metaphors, and some of the real life stuff God fills our life with to show us his love. So, I wondered, maybe dogs are the flesh and bones, the meat and potatoes of what God and his love are like.
            Riley waits at the front door for me to come home from work and wags his tail so hard it looks like it’s going to fall off when I enter the house.   He’s always there for me, waiting, trusting, ready to give me a juicy lick-lick with his thick red tongue as I lean down to rub my cheek against his silky fur.  
            God’s like that, too, it seems. He’s always around us. Always there for us, waiting to offer his encouragement and love whenever we recognize his presence.
            Just like God, Riley gives love unconditionally all the time.  It doesn’t matter if I just stepped on Riley’s tail, forgot to feed him supper, or yelled at him because he pooped in the house, Riley just keeps loving me—no matter what—like I was the best thing that ever happened in his life. 
            Riley comforts me.  When I’m sitting in the quiet during my morning prayer time, he snuggles gently against my feet. It’s as if he’s praying with me. His soft touch and rhythmic breathing remind me that I am never alone. I am loved.  I safe.
            Like God, Riley’s always faithful.  When I’m excited Riley absorbs my joy, soaks in my happiness, and jumps up and down like a dancing clown.  And when I’m sad, he looks at me with his soft caring eyes. “Trust me, things will get better,” it seems he says as I remember how I fell in love with him at the dog pound and brought him home to his new life.
             I often wonder what it would be like to touch God, to feel his skin, see his eyes, and talk with him face-to-face like we do with other people.  Yet, maybe God is the spirit of love and he placed that spirit into each of us, and especially in animals like Riley who gush with love in every inch of their bodies. Maybe dogs and cats and those animals we love and care for so deeply, are the real presence of God in the world. Maybe when I touch Riley, I’m touching a part of God.
            Riley teaches me to receive and accept unconditional love, the kind of love that’s not tied to what I do for him. It’s a love that surpasses my understanding, yet I know it’s as real as his skin, as beautiful as a his golden fur, and as trustworthy as his loyal companionship.
            A few weeks ago, I was walking in the woods with Riley.  He’s usually very good about staying by my side.  But this time, he must have caught the scent of another animal and bounded off into the thicket. I panicked. My heart pounded. My hands started sweating and shaking. I thought I had lost him. I shouted his name out over and over, “Riley!  Riley!” but he didn’t respond. I couldn’t hear him rustling through the low branches. There was only haunting silence.
            Then, as if nothing had happened, Riley suddenly reappeared sporting a goofy what’s-the problem-look on his face. I knelt down to hug him, tears streaming down my cheeks. “I thought I had lost you buddy,” I whispered into his ear as I held him close to my chest. It was the same feeling I sometimes get when I think I’ve lost God, when I think I’m alone and abandoned. But like Riley, God’s never abandoned me. He’s always there. He’s always close by.  And the joy of feeling reunited with Riley, God, and myself is a joy that is now embedded in my bones, written on my heart. I am safe.  I am loved.  And I know God is as real and near as Riley.
            I wonder if people are a lot like Riley in terms of our relationship with God.  Our true self, the innocent self, the person we were when we were first birthed, is naturally, automatically in love with God.  We enjoy spending time with him, sitting at his feet in the quiet, being present to each other, enjoying each other’s company, hanging out together.  God and us are best buds.  Naturally.
            But somewhere along the line we catch the scent of other distractions—busyness, money, the pursuit of false gods—grab our attention and soon we’re off into the thicket of life forgetting or even running away from the One who loves us unconditionally.  Instead of sitting at the feet of the Creator enjoying quiet time together each morning, when the 6 a.m. alarm rings and our feet hit the floor we run to shower, shave, dress, and poof, we race out the door without noticing our best friend is there waiting for us, hoping we’ll sit for a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee together. And when the day is done, we jump mindlessly back into bed, without taking a moment to give thanks to God for all he’s blessed us with that day.
            I wonder if God misses us in those times when we’re chasing distractions.  Does he stand at the edge of the thicket of life and call our name, hoping we’ll come back, concerned we might be lost.  And when we do return, I wonder if God reaches down from heaven, holds his heart in the palm of his hand right next to ours, and whispers into our ear, “I’m glad your back.” 
            And maybe we look up into God’s loving eyes and respond, “It’s good to be home again.  It’s good to be best buds.  I’m in love with you God.  Thanks for missing me, waiting for me to come back. Let’s sit together and drink some coffee and reminisce about how much we mean to each other. Then, let’s go play some catch.”

---brian j plachta

Posted in Reflections    Tagged with dog, God, nature, metaphors for God


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