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Dog Church

 

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”—Rumi

My friend’s dad used to refer to his walks in the woods as Church. He wasn’t a religious man, but he walked religiously in the woods and found his peace there. These days we have taken to calling our standing 10am Sunday walk “Dog Church.” I’m not a religious person either, but I do see similarities in what people might be getting out of a church service and what one can experience during a long dog walk in nature. 

A congregation is a community of like-minded people—as is our group of Sunday walkers—meeting in a sacred place—as we do. Often our shared beliefs concern our love and compassion for animals, and more specifically our dogs and their quirks and shenanigans. For the changing band of people who join the walk each Sunday, it’s a chance to catch up with friends, and for the dogs it’s a chance to romp with a bigger pack and get some serious dog-to-dog socializing in.

Including everyone in a worship service is the very essence of the Unitarian Universalist faith. Not discriminating based on race, gender, belief or breed is also important in Dog Church. Male, female, old, young, mutt, purebred, all dogs and people are welcome, and in fact make the walk that much more colorful. From 6 pound Yorkies to 60 pound poodles, from 6-month mutts to senior citizen dachshunds, the motley crew we sometimes end up with can be comical.

Incense, chiming bells, the rich colors of stained glass, Catholic services can be a feast for the senses. Dog walks, too. Whether walking in the woods or by the ocean, just being outdoors is a way to appreciate the spectacle. The blue ponds, the bright red of cranberries in a bog, the sound of the first peepers, walks are a wonderful way to revere creation, no matter your beliefs about who actually created it.

If Dog Church happens to be solo, it can be a time to think. Call it positive thinking, setting an intention, inspiration or prayer, there is plenty of time for quiet reflection while walking. As the dogs explore (or roll in goose droppings), you’ve got time to mull over the big questions, contemplate your beliefs, or just give thanks—the very acts that are happening Sunday mornings in churches all over Nantucket.

We typically think of the Buddhist faith when we think of meditation, but the act of walking can be meditative itself. If you go to temple or church to transcend your “monkey mind,” walking can have the same effect. You can count your strides, count your breaths, use a mantra, or concentrate fully on how your foot hits the ground with each step. If you’d like to try a guided version of meditative walking, check out the labyrinth at the Holdgate Trails.

The Quakers sit quietly at meeting and wait for the spirit to move them to speak (or not). Walking can be a fine way to be silent until you are moved to say something. Or you can take a break from the constant chatter and just listen. To the wind, the birds, the waves, or to someone else for a change.

So go to mass, attend temple, sit through a service, or take your dog—and your friends—for a walk on beautiful Nantucket. Each can feed your soul.

A Dog’s Life, Nantucket, will explore the many dog (and other animal)-related issues on Nantucket. Stephanie Henke co-founded Nantucket Safe Harbor for Animals and created and manages Nantucket Dog Walk (www.nantucketdogwalk.com), a website dedicated to the many glorious dog walks on Nantucket.