What is virtue?

A Spiritual Journey Thursday offering

While walking with my son this week, out of nowhere a shape descends upon us…

A dog. Not just any dog…

A pit bull.

Wriggling all over for joy, jumping up as if he knows us.

Begging to be petted and to play.

Glossy back coat, merry eyes, laughing face (yes really). Still a puppy, soft-mouthing our hands in greeting. Same as my older son’s pit, Henry, does.

“He is beautiful,” I say to my son. “He must belong to somebody.”

“I wish he was mine,” says my boy. Never mind that he already owns one of the mightiest breeds of all time: a dachshund.

The dog follows us home. We put him in our backyard until we can locate his owner. He doesn’t like being left alone. He cries when we are out of sight. He rejoices on our return. When we sit on on the deck chairs, he lies at our feet; when we rise, he rises to stand by, ready and willing to do whatever it is we are getting ready to do.

We learn from asking around the neighborhood that he’s roamed the streets before and that people shoo him away. Uninvited dogs, especially pits, are not especially welcome. I begin to think about harm that could befall him, aside from the danger of being in the street: What might a startled, frightened, or angry person do to him?

He raises his head as if he hears my thoughts. He looks at me with a wistful expression.

We find his owners. We send him home.

The next morning, he’s back. Curled up on our front porch mat.

Poor sweet boy. He shouldn’t be allowed to roam…or maybe he’s just an escape artist.

And I realize how powerless I am to do anything except hope for his safety and enjoy him whenever he should visit. He’s not mine and he’s disappeared again. I find myself missing him, looking for him.

He’s on my mind as Spiritual Journey Thursday rolls around; he seems, somehow, to be connected to the question, “What is virtue?” The four cardinal virtues of classical philosophy and Christian theology are Prudence (wisdom), Justice (righteousness) Fortitude (strength; overcoming fear), and Temperance (restraint; self-control). We usually think of virtue as people demonstrating goodness or excellence of character (the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31), or as the beneficial quality of a thing: patience is a virtue.

I cannot help thinking that this pit embodies virtue, too. He’s a good dog. He is loving. He is eager to share his affection and exuberant joy with whomever he encounters…he’s perceptive, willing to to serve, and, I suspect, highly trainable even if somewhat uncontainable at present. Above all, he’s one of God’s creatures.

Which reminds me that within the angelic hierarchy of Judeo-Christian tradition is a class of angels known as Virtues. They are connected to motion and order of the cosmos, dispensers of grace, exceptional courage, unshakeable faith, and miracles. They are balance-bringers; in a world so unbalanced of late, the angelic Virtues must have their hands full. As I write, I imagine them roaming the streets, unseen, fervently seeking ways they can impart divine strength.

I am not sure of connections between the Virtues and the mass adoption of dogs during the COVID pandemic…just musing over shapes that heavenly comfort, courage, and sustained strength might take.

Most of all I think about the desire to serve, to do good versus harm in a spirit of fear and distrust.

Perhaps…perhaps virtue arises where it is welcomed, and when it does, it opens our eyes to the virtue of others.


with thanks to my Spiritual Journey writing friends and to Linda Mitchell for hosting on this first Thursday in August. As it turns out, “virtue” is supposed to be theme for September. Today the group is focusing on “respect.” I caught this after I wrote the post, alas, which leaves me with a choice: write another one and save this for September or let this one fly, regardless. I’m choosing to post now. It is, after all, written from a place of respect for the cosmically happy adventurer we’ve taken to calling “Harold.”

7 thoughts on “What is virtue?

  1. I love how you make connections between daily happenings and spiritual thinking. I’ve never thought about virtue in this way but it must be so, when virtue arises it alerts us to the virtue in others. What a sweet dog. But more importantly you are a caring person to watch out for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fran, this is a beautiful, beautiful post. What connections you’ve made to such a lovey, lovable creature. I’m so glad that this dog knows that he can count on you as a home away from home. And, virtue…what a thought…what thoughts. I haven’t spent time reflecting on virtue. I’m so glad you posted on this because I realize I need to. I need to consider where virtue is in my life. Thank you, friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love learning about this class of angels know as Virtues. “They are connected to motion and order of the cosmos, dispensers of grace, exceptional courage, unshakeable faith, and miracles. They are balance-bringers;…” They are much needed. I’ve been looking for daily miracles this week and it’s been interesting to take note of the daily miracles surrounding us. You’ve given me new insight into virtue and a newfound respect for Harold, your cosmically happy neighborhood adventurer.

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  4. Oh, my, isn’t Harold I cutie! I love the photo. This post is perfect today. Perhaps next month we can look forward to some respect!

    I love the idea of “the connections between the Virtues and the mass adoption of dogs during the COVID pandemic.” I surely had never thought of that, but just this morning, my husband was talking about life and he seemed a bit down. We passed a stray hospital cat, one that has been adopted by some of the employees here. My husband brightened up and said, “How are you today, Mummy?” We walked by and I said, “You need a pet!” It’s such a lovely thought that these Virtue angels are dispensing all that goodness. Amen!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fran, I sit here this Saturday morning reading your post and am filled with your spirit of justice and kindness. The way you wove your thoughts into a fluid entry is amazing. From wandering dog to virtue to angels puts me at peace. Thank you for the background knowledge on virtue. I need to step back and remember that patience is a virtue. I am trying to hurry the settlement of my home and this makes me impatient. Life is a series of wants and needs and I might have too much lack of virtue so I need the balance-bringers to help me sort what I need to do. I look into your photo and realize that the visitor’s soulful eyes are longing for love. We need more love to be spread throughout the world. I am always grateful for your words that seem to be just right at any time.

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