Angry drops of rain pounded my back as I ran through the parking lot. My dog Angel darted quickly to one side, pulling me along at the other end of the leash. We sloshed through a puddle around a big boulder I would have tripped over if Angel hadn’t dragged me around it.
I reflected on my close call with the rock while we stood shivering in a pool of rainwater in the nursing home entrance.
“Good morning, Angel!” As always, the nurse at the front desk was happy to see us. I adjusted Angel’s Therapy Dog vest.
“Make sure you see the patient in 1104 today. She’s new.”
“No problem. Let’s go, Angel.” We wound our way through the familiar halls, leaving a trail of drops in our wake. When I reached 1104, I knocked softly.
A small voice answered. “Come in.”
“Hello. I brought you a visitor today.”
Angel danced in circles at my feet. I, on the other hand, hesitated, rather shocked by what I saw. There lay the patient, elderly and infirm like all the others, tucked up in her bed. But this patient was swathed in stark black and white, the formal attire of a nun. A woman who still boldly wore the garments of her faith, even now.
“Good morning, Sister. Do you like animals?” I sat in the chair next to the bed and brought Angel up in my lap.
“What do have there?”
“This is Angel, my dog. She’s an English Cocker Spaniel.”
“I don’t understand. Is she an angel or a dog?”
“She’s a dog. Her name is Angel, but she’s not a real angel. I call her that because of the spots on her back.” I pointed to the two symmetrical copper spots on Angel’s shoulders. “They’re shaped just like angel wings.”
“Come here, sweetheart.” The Sister patted the bed beside her.
I arranged Angel’s blanket on the bed and she snuggled up in a little ball beside the nun, her body rising and falling gently with each breath. As the Sister stroked her wings, Angel fell into a peaceful sleep.
“She likes you. You must have a special way with animals.”
“No, I really don’t like animals. But I love angels. Wherever did you find my guardian angel? I didn’t even know she was lost.”
I squirmed in my seat. I had dealt many times with confused patients, some of whom even mistook me for one of their relatives. But, I felt guilty letting a nun think I had brought a real angel to visit.
“She’s not a real angel, Sister. She’s just a dog whose name is Angel.”
“You know when Jesus was in the desert he was with the wild animals and the angels. They were all together.”
I looked at Angel sleeping beside the nun. She didn’t look at all wild. But she wasn’t a real angel, either.
I smiled. “Angel is a good dog. She keeps me company when I’m lonely.”
“I told you. She’s not a dog. She’s an angel. You’re not listening to me.”
“I’m sorry, Sister.” I began to gather Angel up so I could scoop her off the bed.
“Leave her here. You know the Lord commands her to guard you in all your ways. She makes sure you will not even strike your foot against a stone.”
Chills ran up and down my back. “How do you know about the rock?”
The nun didn’t answer. Her eyes were shut, like Angel’s. I shook her shoulder. “How do you know about the rock?”
The nun opened her eyes and whispered, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Deliver me, Father.”
She clutched Angel tightly and let out a great shudder. And, suddenly, she was gone. The frail hand on Angel’s back fell limply onto the bed. I ran into the hallway and screamed for help. Nurses swarmed the room, but the nun had already gone home.
I buried my face in Angel’s downy coat and one of the nurses placed her hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay, dear?”
I left the room, hugging Angel in my arms. I felt her heart beating close to mine. When I reached the front door, I walked outside into the rain. This time, I turned my face to the heavens and let the slender drops fall, covering my head and Angel’s with a fine mist. It was cleansing and comforting, almost like a baptism.
“…He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” Mark 1:13
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Psalm 91:11
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Psalm 34:7
The Holy Bible, New International Version
Great Schema – The final state of Orthodox monasticism, reached by nuns who have attained a high level of excellence. In some churches, the Great Schema is only given to nuns on their deathbed.
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