Though prayer can have universal themes and language, sometimes it’s less about what you say or who you’re saying it to, and more about the universal language of connection and compassion.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, there’s a therapy dog named Lulu “who comforts mourners at Ballard-Durand Funeral & Cremation Services in Westchester County, N.Y. ” by putting her paws up onto the kneeler and tilting her head down.” According to the article, Lulu was taught this “praying trick,”and “she’s an added source of comfort’’ to mourners of all ages. The owner of the funeral home says “She has a calming presence. She’s a social dog who loves people and has great instincts. She’ll curl up into a ball and lay down next to an older person, or jump around with kids. She especially helps the children, since not all of them understand death.’’ I’m not sure any of us actually understand death, though we do understand the need to take and give comfort at the most difficult times.
So is mimicking the actions or motions of prayer while genuinely comforting those in the deepest throes of grief a trick, or true cross-species act of compassion? In Ancient Prayer, I discuss Pitzi, my late father‘s childhood pet, who waited faithfully at the train station in Hungary every single day for over two years for my father to return from the Concentration Camps. Pitzi wasn’t trained to love or be loyal, it was just who he was intrinsically.
So back to the dog trained to mimic the actions of prayer; is pretending to pray actually prayer if it helps those around you? Lulu, the dog in the story can’t read the liturgy, nor can she express words of comfort, but she can form a deep connection with those actually praying, and she can certainly comfort those needing it the most.
When the words elude you or the idea of prayer seems too far away, sometimes simply being with those needing your presence can help them through the toughest times. It isn’t a party trick and you don’t have to fake it, but even if you don’t have the words, even mirroring the physical actions that offer them solace can help.