How my nosey dog and a sleepy raccoon led me on a Lenten pilgrimage
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
On a crisp, wintry afternoon, my dog Panda and I went for a leisurely walk in the woods. Amused, I watched my Labrador retriever dash out of sight to the east, bound momentarily back into sight, turn abruptly and head south. As she circled back toward me, her nose picked up an irresistible scent. Shifting into hunting mode, centuries of retriever instinct coursing through her rusty-red body, with twitching nose to the ground, Panda zeroed in on an elderly tree.
In a hollow about a foot above the ground, Panda discovered a sleepy raccoon. Barking excitedly, her white-tipped tail wagging wildly, Panda poked her ebony nose into the hollow and attempted to paw her way toward the prize.
“No! Panda! No!” I shouted frantically as I stumbled toward her through the brush and fallen timber. Ignoring my command, she circled the broad base of the tree several times, looking for another route. As I lurched toward her, my arms flailing and failing to grasp her collar, Panda flew back to the opening and repeated her poking and scratching.
Jerking Panda away from the opening, my eyes adjusting to the reduced light, I could just barely make out the image of a curled-up raccoon groggily peering back at us. Ever since this discovery, Panda and I have been peeking hopefully into every hollow we spy.
It’s uncanny, how, when you become fascinated with something, the object of your interest pops up in surprising places. It just so happened that I was reading Wilderness Wanderings: A Lenten Pilgrimage, by Marilyn Brown Oden, and was delighted when I just so happened to stumble over the metaphor of the hollow. Oden invites the Lenten pilgrim to “peer into that small hollow at the core of our being” where we can “discover old truths.”
Shortly thereafter, during a Lenten sermon, my pastor encouraged us to acknowledge and face our shadow side—those troubling aspects of our personality that we prefer to hide and deny. I pictured myself peering into my own shadowy hollow.
Lent is traditionally a time when we are called to humbly look within, under the shadow of the cross. Jesus entered into the darkness—our darkness—as he hung in agony on the cross. With his last breath, he declared, “It is finished.” And it is. Finished!
As you take your Lenten pilgrimage within—a pilgrimage you can take at any time—allow the promise of the cross to light your way. This path leads to resurrection—Christ’s resurrection and ours as well.
May every morning awaken Easter morn in your heart.
Celebrate daily the cleansing power of the cross to transform you and make you new.