My wife and I spent the last week of our summer vacation painting our house.
It's not that we didn't like the color, it's because the wind-driven rain on the plains and the salt air and sunshine had taken their toll on it and on the cedar siding beneath it, sometimes shrinking and splitting the now hard-to-replace siding.
We had little choice except to give it some attention, but to make our task easier we chose the same light chocolate color, named "Celtic Brown" by the neighbor who painted it before we purchased it five years ago. Fortunately, the paint store had kept the formula to duplicate the color with great precision.
I don't like painting my house so my immediate family joined in to make it easier. None of our grown kids volunteered, but my wife took up can and brush and soon became busily engrossed in her task, which took us a full week. Even my dog tried to join in and that at least added humor to what for me was a dreary task. After several days of behaving himself around filled paint cans, wet brushes and sometimes messy clean up, we both left our black Lab free to follow us around outside and to roll in the grass on his back or to lie in the little shade in our yard chewing on wood chips that are part of our landscape.
Then it happened. I don't know just how, but Calvin must have leaned against freshly painted boards somewhere without realizing what he had done. He came running around one corner of our house with the black sides of his body striped in Celtic Brown paint; even his tail was striped and the very tip had somehow gotten dipped to complete his disguise as the tiger of temporary terror. I began to recite by memory the poem from William Blake's "Songs of Experience" that begins:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
I decided to let the canine tiger enjoy his new identity until I had finished for the day, and so went back to painting from my high-ladder perch. But Blake's imagery took hold of my thoughts as I stretched to recall his words describing the loss of human innocence and the storms of experience that leave us all greatly changed:
When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Blake's "Tyger" continues to prowl among us today, leaving in his tracks the more sordid evidence of his fearful symmetry - selfish conflict, war, death, pain, poverty, hunger, depression and finally despair.
My thoughts brought me back to earth and I once again looked at my canine tiger, wagging his whole body to welcome my descent to the lawn and bringing me his ball in an invitation to play.
I could see Calvin was no tiger, despite his vivid stripes. His behavior reminded me more of Blake's "Little Lamb," whose maker is called by the same name. I found comfort in the thought that there can also be something divine in human form. Blake is more specific in his poem, "The Divine Image," where he writes,
For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is Man his child and care.
Blake sees God's incarnation as a "Lamb" to be an affirmation of God's willingness to be present in all of us, if we are willing to respond to others as does the Lamb:
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
Doug Rich is the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Clatsop Plains in Warrenton.