I’m an autumn sort of person: I particularly love those crisp sunny late September days when the sky is a bell-clear blue and the dew hangs heavy in the mornings lending a freshness to the air after the heat and humidity of summer. My favourite season begins at the end of August at the Greenbelt festival, which has been a part of my life for many years and it’s fair to say that I am devoted to this festival and what it stands for.
I love its variety: as a spotty teenager used only to high-church choral worship and liturgy, Greenbelt exploded into my life with alternative worship styles (especially those involving loud guitars) and teachings. This year I got myself to the Goth Eucharist at the festival. This has been a regular part of the worship network at Greenbelt for many years but I’d never made it a key item in my schedule before. Reader, I loved it. A chance in tune with the festival theme of ‘Life begins ...’ to renew baptismal vows (and a most energetic sprinkling/soaking of the people there gathered by the four priests) and as for the music ... must ask our organist if there’s a bass-guitar stop on St Chads’ instrument.
So where does a prodigal puppy fit into all of this? God asks of us that we devote ourselves to Him and at infant baptism parents and god-parents promise that devotion on the child’s behalf. In later years, we declare that devotion individually through confirmation. At the Goth service, one brave person had asked to be baptised to declare her new devotion to God – to joyful applause and welcome from the community gathered in that room. And the service gave us the opportunity to restate our own devotion as we remade our own baptismal declarations.
Now having four dogs I also see devotion from the other side (particularly if I have a plate with left-over haggis in my hand) and if I go away they pine. Terribly. It’s somewhere between sad, comical and wonderful but it’s also a distinct example of how God asks us to behave towards Him and the nature of the relationship that He calls us into with Him. When I came home after the festival, it was like the rush of the father to meet his returning son, but with paws and fur and licky tongues in place of a bear-hug embrace and words of welcome. Dogs will not reproach you that you have been away but are simply and hugely glad to see you again and will jump all over you in order to tell you so.
And so in turn is it with God – He is for ever calling us to return to relationship with Him and when we do so He rejoices in our doing so, like the exuberance of a puppy’s wagging tail. He does not greet us with a grimace and an ‘About time too!’ like a teacher reprimanding a tardy student but with open arms and love beyond our understanding. And, in turn, He calls us to be likewise in our dealings with those whom we meet daily in our lives as part of our devotion to Him
Tim Dawe, St Chad's Church