In the latter half of the fourth century, there lived a man named Pelagius. He was a Celt, a prominent British theologian. A large man, tall, heavy, slow to move, thoughtful, Pelagius was rather intimidating in appearance, by all accounts, with flowing long hair that was shaved at the sides and back. He loved his food and drink. He adored babies. He found God in all living things.
The world that Pelagius would have known in the British Isles and European countryside at that time would have been thick with green and wild with forests, free-range animals and empty beaches, wide horizons, crackling storms, stars that filled the heavens with unfiltered glittering.
One of the things that draws me most to Pelagius is his conviction that we all need to find an anamchara – a “soul friend” – in life. Focused beyond the organized church of Rome, he counseled each one of his followers to discover, develop and cherish a “friend of the soul” – one to whom the inner self can be opened, hiding nothing, revealing everything, to better know and explore our own true hearts.
Throughout my life, I have always found such soul friends among the animals of the earth – primarily the cats and dogs who have shared my home. This relationship becomes most real to me when I am outdoors, walking, in the company of dogs.
Aiken, especially, has proven to be rich with opportunities for such experiential walks – through a deep ancient woods filled with life and spirituality, down soft dirt roads stretching out between old houses and horse paddocks, even along peaceful downtown sidewalks lined with waiting bowls of dog water.
For the last few years, dog “Indy” was my true soul friend. Before that, I was blessed with two such companions. One was a gorgeous redhead named Sophie, with ears that flopped, a rump that swaggered, and a coat that glistened in the sunlight. The other was Teddy, soft-spoken and shy and utterly devoted to both Sophie and me (and in that order). His large, black, almond-shaped eyes could laugh with joy or break your heart.
All of the above were foundlings. Perhaps the spirit of Pelagius himself put them in my path; and then, one by one, God called them home, each after a lifetime of love and joy and anamchara truth.
Somewhere along the path with these animals as my soul friends, I began to write down the experiences of spirituality that I was noticing while walking with them. Tucked away in a drawer, I added to the small essays over several years. And then I chose to compile them into a book; I’ve called it: Walking With Dogs: A Spiritual Journey, and I’ve dedicated it “to all the dogs who have walked with me.” It has just been released and I am looking forward to sharing it with you.
I don’t know if Pelagius had a dog himself, but I hope he did, probably several. And I can imagine that he, too, would have found walking with them to be a unique kind of spiritual journey – sharing the path with these amazing anamchara, these true and faithful friends of the soul.