In case you don’t know, I live with a beagle. And if you have ever spent any time in the presence of a beagle, you have probably heard the famous Dave Barry quote about the breed, namely that a beagle is a nose with four legs attached. My Gracie is indeed just such a creature…if you watch her, you see her use her discerning nose to search out the object of her desire (usually a food item, since she is an eating machine). When she catches that first whiff of something interesting or something that needs attention, the nose goes up in the air and the sniffing begins.
What most people do not know about a beagle is that much of their scent ability has nothing to do with their noses (although the nose of a beagle has more than 220 million olfactory sensors, whereas we mere humans have only 5 million or so). Much of what a beagle, or any hound for that matter, smells has to do with their ears. The structure of a hound’s ears was specifically created to capture scent all around them, trap it, and make it available to those very special noses.
Now, I really do have a point to this, other than extolling the virtues of my beloved hound. You see, you can always tell when Gracie is on the trail of something. And, when she is on the trail, she is almost never wrong — even if we humans in her company might take days to figure out what she is trying to find. But there is always something — a chew stick pushed too far behind a piece of furniture for us to see, a last piece of duck jerky hidden and forgotten in a pocket, something….there is always something.
I am thinking that it is God’s little joke that I would live with a beagle, because my own life quest is a lot like Gracie’s nose. My ears collect and hold things that I don’t understand, my spiritual nose knows that it is on the trail of something. But I often cannot put language to the search, I often just “feel” the trail (I equate my “feelings” to Gracie’s scent capabilities), and I know it is there and I just can’t let it go.
And, I am rarely wrong. There is almost always something hidden where my not-language senses pull me. And I often need a book, or someone else, to put my sensations and yearnings into language for me, so that I can move on to the next mysterious spiritual sniffing exercise.
In this case, I have to thank Brian McLaren and his book Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices.
My frustration with much of what I encounter in my questing and searching is that…so much of what constitutes spiritual practice seems to me to imply that I, the seeker, must separate myself from life in order to have communion with the Holy Spirit or God or whatever you want to call that which Emerson refers to as the Great Oversoul. I have written about this before, and probably will write about it again.
But now, thanks to Mr. McLaren, I understand: I am seeking the tools for a faith that is a way of life, not a destination:
One of our most common temptations is to turn the way into a place, to turn the adventure into a status, to trade the runway for the hangar, to turn the holy path into a sitting room–even if we call it a sanctuary. When the movement becomes an institution, those whose hearts call them to pilgrimage get restless.
(Finding Our Way Again, pg. 51)
I am, at heart, a pilgrim…not the kind with a big belt buckle and a fear of Native Americans, more the kind in sandals and linen. Someone I respect greatly once said to me that one of the ways they saw God in me was that I embraced whole-heartedly the act of living in the questions. And she was right, life and faith and everything good and interesting is all about the questions. I need my faith to be a way of life, a way of life in the world that is God’s and Man’s creation; for me, there is safety and comfort in the questions.
So, like my beloved furry-child Gracie, I am always on the hunt. She sniffs, I feel…but we are both always on the trail of something. And the hunt is way more important than the destination (unless, of course, for Gracie, it is something to eat.)