Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Praying For A Welcoming Spirit

By Karen Muensterman

When I was a child, my sisters and I made friends with a stray dog.  He wandered into our world one hot summer morning while we were playing “house” on our shady carport.  My mom had backed the car out to make room for our doll furniture and had loaned us some old pots and pans to play with.  We filled the pans up with water from the hose and proceeded to bathe our blue-eyed baby dolls.  At some point during our play, a skinny, dirty Beagle crept cautiously out of the hot sun and into our shady, make-believe world.  He stood on trembling legs and stared at us with huge brown eyes.  We stared back.  After a couple of minutes, I pushed a pan of water slowly over to him.  He lapped it up and sat down.  I sat down too and cautiously scooted closer to him.

            “He seems nice,” I announced to the carport at large, and within seconds the dog was surrounded by three little girls who were intent on grooming him.  We plucked a tick off his ear, washed his face and brushed him with our doll brushes before presenting him to our mother.  She was not impressed. 

 “You girls don’t know that dog from Adam!” she shrieked.  “Git!” she commanded the dog.

 But the dog just sat perfectly still, staring at her from within the protective circle of my sister’s chubby arms.  Mom sighed and visibly wilted.

“Oh Lord help me,” she whispered. 

And I assume the Lord did help her because a few seconds later she mustered the strength to go in the house and cut up some bologna for the dog.  A little later, she scrambled an egg for him, claiming she had read somewhere that eggs gave dogs a shiny coat.  Strengthened by the food and emboldened by the hand of friendship, “Dog,” as we imaginatively named him, soon began to perk up.  By the end of the afternoon, his tail was wagging nonstop as he followed us happily around the yard.  That night, my mom brought out an old rug for him to sleep on.  She cautioned us that he might disappear overnight, but when we awoke the next day, he was patiently waiting for us on the carport.

Dog shared our lives for several days before the ugly shadow of fear intruded on our bright, innocent world.  Early one evening, the Poseyville Town Marshall called my dad to inform him that a stray dog had attacked another dog in town and had acted in a threatening manner when approached.  His description loosely fit the dog we had adopted.  Shortly afterward, the Marshall pulled up in front of our house with a shotgun.  There were tears in my mother’s eyes as she herded my sisters and me into her bedroom.  She ordered us to cover our ears, but my small hands could not shut out the sound of Dog’s frantic shrieks or the boom of the shotgun.  Nearly 50 years later, I can still hear them.  That experience gave me a life-long aversion to guns and an abiding compassion for refugees, vagrants and dreamers. 

I stayed in the house for days after Dog’s execution; and when I finally ventured back outside, our yard seemed dimmer, as if it were haunted by a hopeless shadow.

Every time we allow a stranger into our midst or a refugee across our border, fear creeps in with them.  What if this person harms us?  What if he harms our children?  Our resources are already limited.  Do we really have enough to share?  How will our comfortable lives change if we let these strangers in?

I can’t answer those questions because I don’t know the answers.  But I know this:  Jesus once said that whatever we do for the least of our brethren, we do for Him, and when His disciples were overwhelmed with fear and confusion, He sent them the Holy Spirit.  I pray that the same Spirit might give us all the courage to face our fear of welcoming the stranger.  Because I learned at a very young age that it is better to battle fear than to live in a safe land haunted by hopeless shadows.