Dogged Devotion

Kalayaan, Laguna / Boljoon, Cebu / Dauis, Bohol / Magdalena, Laguna, the Philippines

June 2010, March 2011, April 2011, and November 2011

All Dogs Go to Heaven went a movie title. I think there might have been a grain of truth in it after seeing some canine parishioners in various churches I visited. They gave the phrase “faithful as a dog” a literal spin.

Dog Looking at Jesus in Magdalena Church

Hebrews 12:2

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

A grey mutt’s backside greeted me as I stepped into the rectory of St. Mary Magdalena Parish Church in Magdalena, Laguna. The dog was standing by the door above a flight of stairs. I expected it to turn back and bark at us, or at least acknowledge the presence of strangers with a sniff. But it remained motionless, looking up at a painting hanging on the wall, and held that position long enough for me to go up a few steps, set my camera, and snap a photo. Still, the dog was oblivious to this intruder, its eyes seemingly fixed at the painting of Jesus, with a divine spotlight forming a halo around his face, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The scene was evocative of a verse from one of my favorite hymns:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

St. Mary Magdalena Parish Church in Magdalena, Laguna

Hebrews 4:16

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

It was almost 5:30PM. The vesper mass at the Church of Patrocinio de Maria in the town of Boljoon in Cebu Island was about to begin. The communion vessels had already been set on the center table. Parishioners were trickling in as the church bell pealed. Along with the human faithful, a pair of dogs was walking along the church aisle. As people settled on their pews, the dogs took their posts at the side of the nave.

Canine Parishioner of Boljoon Church
Human Parishioner of Boljoon Church

1 Corinthians 16:13

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.

Stretched out on the pavement in front of the rectory of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis on Panglao Island, Bohol, a small dog was on guard. It held its head up, with ears erect, scanning the church grounds and observing the comings and goings of visitors. Later, it quietly escorted my group at a cafe behind the rectory.

The Little Guard Dog of Dauis Church
Jhie Jhie and the Dauis Church Guard Dog

Psalm 62: 1-2

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Sleeping in church may sometimes prove to be irresistible, but no one did it as shamelessly as the resident dog of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist) Church in Kalayaan, Laguna. Curled up in an almost fetal position by the main portal, Golem was the picture of security, contentment, and comfort, with nary a care in the world. The alpha dog could not be disturbed from his alpha sleep. The church was its refuge. A year later, I visited the church again and, as usual, I found this canine sleepyhead napping at the parish priest’s feet during lunch. Neither food nor noise roused him from sweet slumber.

Let a Sleeping Dog Lie: Golem the Dog at San Juan Bautista Church
Golem at Rest

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

The ancient ancestors of these dogs had not always been domesticated. They were wolves; they roamed and hunted, wild and free. But a change of heart had occurred somewhere down their blood line. The fierce nature of these erstwhile pack hunters seemed far-fetched now.

These church dogs provided an allegorical display of various virtues of the Christian faith: Eyes fixed solely on Jesus, a desire to seek God’s presence, vigilance in the face of worldly distractions, and finding refuge in God. Dogs knew their master and were completely devoted regardless of the circumstances. Man could learn such dogged devotion directed to God, not dogma. More than the church buildings I had visited and the organized religion they represented, man’s best friend pointed the way back to faith. The word dog, after all, was God spelled backwards.

In memory of Sam, Phantom, and all the dogs I’ve loved before.

Dog-Lover Mom

48 thoughts on “Dogged Devotion”

    1. Edmar, that’s sacrilege! 😀 I feature either Catholic churches or Buddhist temples in this blog, but I actually don’t believe in organized religion. I hope this post reflects my faith.

      1. Psalm 62: 1-2

        My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

        ANG GANDA! Very nice verse to reflect with just before going to sleep :))

    2. Hey brother, we share the same belief! Yep, very comforting verse. When I’m faced with challenges or exhausted by life’s demands, I just think of Golem, the sleeping dog, and he reminds me to rest in God, my refuge. 🙂

      1. really you don’t believe religion? well, religion can just be a pure label as long as there is faith within us especially from the divine person up from a above.

      2. Hi Germz! Not anymore. Most times, religion has nothing to do with God. It’s as synthetic as any China-made imitation product.

  1. Dogs are the best man’s friend. Dogs have senses too, though they’re governed by their instincts. But once they’re trained, dogs behave as what they’ve been thought. Dogs in the chapel or place of worship are something to be respected. As I’ve said, they only behave as what they’ve been taught and trained.

    1. @Jolo: Hahaha IKR! Magdalena Church has your signature all over it. 🙂 And yes, I think churches in the provinces are dog-friendly. I think those dogs live there too, with the parish priest and caretakers.

      @Tumadok: Behavior over instinct. My point exactly. In many ways, dogs don’t act based on their wolf nature, such as eating their kill away from the presence of other species. It’s a metaphor for the sublimation of human nature in spiritual awakening.

      @Nanar: That makes the two of us. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Mai! I really had a particular verse in mind for each dog. It wasn’t rocket science to assign meaning to the otherwise candid shots I took of them.

  2. Making an allegory with faith, and dogs perhaps! 🙂
    Though the dogs conscious may not be all about having faith to God!
    The gift of a Dogs devotion to humans are what we value most!
    We love Dogs, as they are the most loyal friend we could find..

    1. Yeah, that’s why it’s an allegory. We can compare their devotion to their humans to our own devotion to God. As my title suggests, this post is also a devotional. 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing that, John. I’ve read that before, but so nice to be reminded. I’m touched by #4 again – “You have your entertainment, your friends. I only have you.” So poignant. If we only had the same attitude toward God – that we have nothing other than him.

  3. another creative post full of wisdom and may mga references pa! ganda din ng mga shots! love the Boljoon church shot, and also the San Juan Bautista one. sarap ng buhay nila. namiss ko tuloy si Bruno, ang anak ni J.Lo. 😛

  4. Nice post! I can see we could express Photography in other ways too. Like this too! I’m not into pets but i know dogs are man’s bestfriend and i love how you connect each with each other 🙂

  5. I love the first black and white shot! Ang ganda! Dramatic and so meaningful. I can’t imagine a life too without a dog and now that I have my own place my dog always guard my door and protects me from harm.. 😉

  6. I love the photo “Golem At Rest” looks very classic! Your post makes me miss our 15 year old dog named Maples who passed away last 2009. Since then we didnt adopt a dog anymore. Tnx for the share! Fab shots! 🙂

  7. I love dogs coz I got it from my father. We used to have around 13 dogs at home when I was in college. They are all spoiled. But when my father got sick ..we didn’t let the number grow. Till only two was left 😦 I miss them all.

  8. this is such a witty post AJ! grabe, you are very keen to have captured of the dogs at church. your bible verse canonized the post too haha. very timely. last Sat. i watched Jessica’s feature about dogs as savior/ ma’s best friend. made me miss my dogs. i used to own dog’s – 5 in succession, but died of parvo. so i stopped owning one since then. there are dogs at my parents house though.

    1. Awww I’m sorry to hear that, Atty! But yeah, dogs can really break your heart. For one, their lifespan is so short. You’re more likely to outlive them. I’ve not really fully recovered from a broken heart when my dog, Sam, died. And that was in 1999!

    1. Sorry, I’m not a pussy person. Cats are just too lazy. And they preen a lot. Sloth and vanity – they remind me too much of myself. 😀

  9. aliw! This is such a fresh perspective 🙂 Who would’ve thought of God in a dog? Makes sense.
    Thanks for your insight. Keep the Bible Study coming bro!

    1. This. You gotta see the ceiling mural. It’s in blue, very lovely. Also check out the churchyard beside the church.

  10. Clap clap clap! Been ages since I visited your blog Cuz. What brought me back was the email updates (yes, I subscribed) on your exchanges with Priscilla (no, not the Queen of the Dessert) the blogger who posted in your “Museum of Personal History”. So I thought of checking your latest pieces. And lo, this is what greeted me… a simple yet articulate piece, a common sight yet uncommon view. You know what you have proved here Cuz? That you’re not only a writer’s son, but also a pastor’s grandson indeed!

    Thanks for writing this piece… it is the Lenten season after all, and this is a great piece to reflect..recollect..reconnect.

    P.S. You unknowingly posted this on my wedding anniv… so I guess this would do as an anniversary gift.. haha!

    P.P.S. This has changed the way I look at dogs in churches… ; )

    1. Awwww Cuz, happy anniversary to you and Monet! I have no money to buy you an expensive gift you both deserve, so yes, I’m glad this post sufficed, as you said. 🙂

      As I get older, my heritage is manifesting in my life slowly but surely. Indeed, I have a writer and a pastor (and a scoutmaster) leaving me this legacy that only the grace of God could realize in my life, despite my own disbelief, haha!

      Right, this would could be a reflective piece this Holy Week. How timely, though I didn’t realize it when I wrote it. Thanks for dropping in, Cuz. See you soon!

  11. This just reflects the state of my faith: ” . . . it should be dogged devotion to God, not to dogma.” Well-thought-of, multi-layered, reflective post—can’t be any better, AJ. Thanks.

  12. So sad to see all the homeless dogs. It is becoming a big problem here in Argentina. Dogs are seen as possessions and something that can be replaced easily. You have to feel sorry for them. Love the photos AJ and sorry it`s been such a long time since my last visit!

    1. They’re not homeless, Nelieta. They live in the church with the priest and caretakers. 🙂 But yeah, we do have a lot of stray dogs and cats in this country. For every dog/cat lover here, there’s probably nine others who couldn’t care less.

      No worries. I’ve not been blog-hopping for quite some time now either. We do go through these lulls, but we also know we’d be back some time. 🙂 I’m also streamlining my Facebook. I opted out of many blog groups to lessen my notification clutter.

      1. Hi AJ, glad to hear that they are taken care off! Sad about the others but I guess it is happening all over the world. Take care my friend and looking forward to your posts when you feel all refreshed again 🙂

  13. Wow, it’s cute. I’m a dog lover, too. Sir, I would like to drop by tomorrow to collect my handouts. Sorry, I can’t inform you through text because guess I lost your number. I’ll just explain when I see you. Sorry for the dilly-dally, just too busy with my research. Thank you and Happy Holidays!

    1. I gotta hand it to you Mia…you’re the only student I’ve had who would post school-related messages on my blog, hahahaha! No worries though, I’m amused at the novelty. Anyway now that we’re having a conversation here, can you make it on Thursday instead? TBH, I don’t remember what handouts you need. I’ll check the textbook.

  14. Oh, I’m sorry. It’s because this is the only way I can get in touch with you, Sir. Because, (sigh) guess I lost you number. Not actually lost, it’s in my blackberry that I can’t use at the moment; expired battery; no time to attend to it now as I’m really really busy. Sorry for the unusual post though. Hmm, what handouts? It’s the grammar lessons, po, Sir. Thank you. Merry Christmas!
    …Mia here

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