Steve had honed his skills in photographing hands on our own pastor and one other willing guinea pig, so we were all set--or so we thought--when the first appointment was arranged and we set out for Atlanta one Saturday morning. Thanks to the good offices of our GPS, we arrived (more or less) at the right spot at the appointed hour, and trudged up to the door of the parish offices, lugging cameras and suddenly unprepared for what we were about to do. The enormity of meeting a complete stranger, barging into his day and taking photographs weighed in on us as we knocked rather timidly on the office door. No answer....we momentarily considered abandoning the whole project and starting a new life in East Sopchoppee.
Checking our watches to make sure we were on time and gathering up our courage, we tried again. This time, an exuberant grey-haired presence greeted us: Flannery, the rectory dog. The priest followed two steps behind, grey-haired and as friendly as his canine emissary. He introduced himself and his dog, and asked us to wait in the sitting room while he finished an appointment. The grey haired mutt kept us company, first sitting at our feet with her face upturned and quizzical; then allowing herself to be petted, then settling herself down on the couch, awaiting her master's return.
It was surprising, too. I know the controversy that can result in a parish from a pet in the rectory, but it's never made much sense to me. Pets are as essential a part of my life as breakfast coffee. It was so reassuring to meet this stranger and have an immediate bond not just because we were both Catholic but because we both understood the role of dogs in creation, in life. It was a great joy some months later, when attending the Chrism mass to see Flannery on the end of a leash, taking the air before, no doubt, being sequestered away while the liturgy proceeded without her.
There's a temptation to wax eloquent about the necessity of dogs, or to draw great and lofty comparisons between the relationship of a dog to its master and us to Christ. I'll leave that to someone else. This image is about the simple joy of companionship that comes from comfortable knowledge, passes much of its time in silence, and is grounded in just being together. Flannery is the quintessential dog and that makes this image all the more human, the priest all the more familiar whether one knows him or not.