St. Francis of Assisi
I chose the opening music after witnessing a beautiful sky yesterday. I had a very long and arduous week and was finally able to take a walk outside. The clouds made the most beautiful patterns. I felt a sense of awe that had eluded my awareness during the long week at work. It is this sense of awe that can restore in us a sense of the goodness of life…that in Julian of Norwich’s words, “All Will Be Well”. It restores in me a sense of wonder and hope and opens up my consciousness to include the earth…the sky…all of nature. I am reminded of the words of St. Francis of Assisi: Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings. To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name. Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour, Of You Most High, he bears the likeness. Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods, by which You cherish all that You have made. Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water, So useful, humble, precious and pure. Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire, through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong. Praised be You my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs. Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial. I love Francis’ use of the family names…brother, sister, mother, father. It brings our environment into personal focus…a part of all our relations. Pope Francis wrote of this web of creation and the necessity of this sense of relatedness to the world in his Encyclical Letter on Care for our Common Home, written six years ago. Writing about Francis, his namesake, the Pope said:
Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
A refusal to turn “reality” into an object simply to be used and controlled! Wow, Pope Francis’ “integral ecology” transcends our anthropocentric idea of life…our tendency to cut ourselves off from the rest of creation. He calls on the beauty and poetry of St. Francis of Assisi to remind us of our intimate connection…our relatedness to all creatures…to all of creation. Here is another reminder…the singing of a blackbird.
The beauty of the singing of the blackbird reminds us of what Meister Eckhart saw as a “book about God”. He wrote:
Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full
of God and a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough
time with the tiniest creature – even a caterpillar- I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.
Notice that Eckhart says “every single creature”. Friday was Endangered Species Day…a day to bring into our awareness the problem of fading biodiversity and beyond that the loss of information about God. It is a part of the tragedy of our current situation and something that many of us do not see as important. But if we know anything about ecology…about the way our natural world works, we know that biodiversity is key…it is part of what makes systems work the way they do. The loss of species…all kinds of species, could signal a collapse of the entire system.
Beyond this reality, it is a loss of part of ourselves. Let’s hear from St. Francis again…
If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures
from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
Francis knew of this connection as he knew of his own connection to all his relations. It is indeed a small step to exclude a creature to the exclusion of another human being…or groups of human beings. As in the workings of our natural ecology, human ecology…human community thrives on diversity.
Back to the blackbird…I am reminded of a song by the Beatles, the origin of which is disputed, even by the songwriter himself. Is it about an actual blackbird or is it a symbol for the civil rights movement of the time? Could be both…
Paul McCartney has said, at different times, that he wrote it because of a bird he heard singing in India and as a response to the struggle of African-American people. Either way, it points to the fact that all are needed in this world…we are all part of the “book about God” and we need each other. This dependence on each other has been brought home over that past year of COVID infections. We are deeply interdependent and we still have much to learn about the world in which we live.
In the following video explaining what goes on beneath the canopy of the forest, we can see this interconnectedness and its importance to the flourishing of life.
This language of the trees reminds me of the intricacy of human and animal communication. I see it in the gestures and sounds of my infant grandson, who has an intense urge to connect. He connects with the plant and animal world just as much as with the human world. He does not yet possess adult language, but is able to exist in synergy with the total environment. Although his 5 year-old sister has some language, she also connects with her entire being. Like the roots of the tree, in concert with the fungi, nutrients and elements we humans are engaged in this connection-seeking for mutual benefit.
I’d like to leave you with perhaps one of the most familiar symbols of diversity, interconnection and life itself. Enjoy the world of pollination so essential to our own survival as well and be reminded of these endangered species…the honeybee, the bumblebee, the Karner blue butterfly, the Bartram's hairstreak butterfly and the St. Francis’ satyr butterfly to name a few.
And thanks to the wisdom of Emily Dickinson… In the name of the Bee— And of the Butterfly— And of the Breeze— Amen