The Book of Bandit Ch 3 – My Dog and C.S. Lewis

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field… – Genesis 2:18-20a –

I sit in my office chair at the new writing area I have created in the home we are moving into. It’s still unspooling, jam packed with too many things. I am definitely not ready to show you a picture yet. But the dog’s bed is right next to it. As I pick up a cracker, the crunch of some salted rye goodness summons the dog and Bandit puts a paw on my leg. “Did someone say cracker?” you can almost hear him say.

I cannot share, and I make a mental note to include dog treats on my desk for next time. Food is the quickest way to summon the Bandit, but this time, when he realizes there is none to share, he doesn’t leave. He just looks at me while I scratch him behind the ears, mouth in a smile, tail moving back and forth. Apparently, a bit of time with me is an adequate substitute for a cracker today. His smile is catching and after a fashion he heads back to his bed.

In the first chapter of the book of Bandit I talked about the impact of re-connecting with our first calling to care for the planet, even in the simplest act of caring for a dog. Today, I’d like to cite that claim. I’m not the only student of the Word who has noticed this. In fact, this special kind of bond, this affection, this… love, if you will. It has a name.

Among the audiobooks on my phone (because I love a good audiobook when on a drive), is a BBC vintage recording of The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. It’s introduced by Charles Coulson, but you get to hear the fantastic oxford-lecture voice of Lewis himself as he walks through the notes that will become a fascinating study on love, from a linguistic standpoint (specifically ancient Greek). This is a worthwhile study because in some ways ancient Greek, in my opinion, is a superior written language to modern English. For example: our definition for “love” is waaaay too broad. If we can say “I love hot wings” and “I love my wife” we’ve got an issue.

In the book Lewis explores four different Greek words for love: Storge (affection), Philia (friendship), Eros (just… like it sounds), and Agape (sacrificial, or even Godly, love). The word for what Bandit shares with our family is storge. This kind of connection, Lewis argues, can even transcend species. It is affection, the love of the familiar: “…it’s the most comfortable and least ecstatic of loves. It is to our emotions what soft slippers and an easy almost worn-out chair and old clothes are to our bodies. Wraps you ’round like a blanket, almost like sleep.” One of the most fascinating aspects of this basic, love-of-familiarity is that it teaches us to love those things which surround us, live with us, are by our side (whether we chose them or not). Familiarity breeds affection. And with Bandit, it’s the fluff of the fur, the thump of a happy tail on the floor, the concern when one of us leaves and the joy upon returning.

It is also, however, the possessiveness. It’s the reason he barks when people “not in his group” are at the door, or why he’s skittish with someone “not in the group” is in the house, or the yard (much apologies to the termite inspector for the barking, Bandit just did not want to share us). This kind of love is comfortable, natural, and can be almost automatic. In fact, Lewis says, while you may remember the start of a friendship, or when you fell into romantic love, by the time you notice storge, it’s been going on for a while.

I see this kind of love within the naming of the animals in Genesis. A passage that we often gloss over quickly as we rush to preach and teach about creation (which came before) or marriage (which comes next). But think about it for a moment… God and us, naming all of the animals. That must have taken weeks! And naming is knowing. You cannot properly name something till you have watched or spent time with it. How must the first of us have loved spending time with all manner of created beings, taking the time to get to know each one before naming it. Perhaps spending a bit less time with skunk and the ostrich, but a bit too much time with the horse and the dog. Sentimental, I know, but… it’s right there in scripture.

Like I said in chapter one, when that kind of love is redeemed by holiness, the one extending the love learns (in the best of times) an echo of the love of God, and the one receiving the love experiences (in the best of times) what I called earlier a “status elevation” in an earlier post.

I thought you might like to see how C.S. Lewis describes this fun and meaningful bit of theology: Here’s how Lewis writes it in Perelandra, as a character not unlike Eve in the garden of Eden interacts with the animals on her world:

The beasts raced forward to greet her She turned as they approached her and welcomed them, and once again the picture was half like many earthly scenes but in its total effect unlike them all. It was not really like a woman making much of a horse, nor yet a child playing with a puppy. There was in her face an authority, in her caresses a condescension, which by taking seriously the inferiority of her adorers made them somehow less inferior–raised them from the status of pets to that of slaves. As Ransom reached her she stooped and whispered something in the ear of the yellow creature, and then, addressing the dragon, bleated to it almost in its own voice. Both of them, having received their congé, darted back into the woods.

“The beasts in your world seem almost rational,” said Ransom.

“We make them older every day,” she answered. “Is not that what it means to be a beast?”

– Perelandra – Book 2 of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy

A little bit of vocabulary work will help us bring this from 1943 to today. First, the concept of slave, while absolutely not a good concept, is used more in the vein of Paul’s writing in Romans 6 which translates more to “willing servant” instead of “unwilling”. This passage has a tone of: I decided to serve Christ because of the quality of his character. Second, conge’ is an old school French/Latin word meaning that a superior has given an inferior “permission to leave”. Think army terms “your dismissed” or a ceremonial courtly bow, that type of thing.

In his works, Lewis manages to preserve what appears to be the Biblical order of creation: God > Angels > Us > the animals and plants of the earth. And yet he manages to do so in such a way that doesn’t demean or disrespect those “lower in the order,” but in fact lifts them up. Also, the villains of Out of the Silent Planet (the first book in the series) are seeking only to exploit what is ‘beneath them’, strip mine whatever they can get out of it, and then move on. It is the angelic characters in the book that look upon these motivations and call them “bent” or “broken”. One of the key lessons of this fantastic speculative series is that while we may have a special place in creation, and been given charge of some things… others have been given charge over us, and God has charge over all.

So back to Bandit, who is unfortunately tearing apart his bed right now… just a second.

As we’ve moved into our new home and everything has changed, his storge is on overload. He’s been extra worried when one of us leaves, and extra barky at anyone he doesn’t want to share us with, but we are giving him extra attention, the new place is becoming familiar, and he’s finally starting to calm down. As we’ve taken care of him, he in his own way has taken care of us: diligently watching over the house and checking in with everyone. When the last person arrives back in the house (there are five of us) then he visibly relaxes, all of his people are home, and he goes to his favorite place to sleep (especially if we’re all in the living and dining room).

Perhaps this Holy storge at work. A dog elevated, a family blessed with affection, an animal named, and a really small but special piece of heaven visible, if just for a moment, here on earth.

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