I went looking for images of Saint Francis in honor of his feast day tomorrow (October 4th) and found some lovely ones above (see below for the links to the artists).
Francis is known for many things, his life of poverty, his commitment to peace, and especially his great love of animals and all creation. He is often depicted with creatures at his side and this feast day is celebrated with a “Blessing of the Animals.” I remember attending such a service when we lived in Berkeley with Duke. There in the pews were cats and dogs, rabbits and birds, pot-bellied pigs and guinea pigs, all in attendance along with their human friends. At the end we were invited to come up to the sanctuary with our animal companions for a blessing with holy water. Such a vision we were.
Francis wrote the Canticle of Creation in which he praises God for all brother and sister creatures. This reflects the language of our Psalms in which all of creation is invited to sing praise of God:
“Praise the Lord from the heavens….Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars….Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all depths; Fire and hail, snow and mist, storm winds that fulfill his word; You mountains and all you hills, you fruit trees and all you cedars; You wild beasts and all tame animals.” (from Psalm 148.)
Even the book of Revelation issues forth a similar image:
“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: ‘To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever'” (Revelation 5:13).
In ancient times, especially among the desert and celtic saints, a special relationship to animals was considered to be a sign of great holiness. Even though I don’t have a special creature in my life right now, in honor of this day, I plan to take time to listen to the great song of creation through sounds of squirrels scampering, leaves rustling, and grass softly folding under my feet. I will stand still and allow myself to be carried into praise and delight on the wings of a crow. I will honor that great communion of saints, which for me includes the animals that have witnessed to the otherness of God by their simply being the fullness of what they were created to be.
I’ve written here before of my companion Duke and what that loss has meant to me and I also write often about what my encounters with nature stir in me. Back in May I wrote an “Ode to Dogness” and ended by saying that “Duke also teaches me about humility, in his daily reminder that the world is so much bigger than human consciousness. The creative life is, in part, about widening our perspectives, and imagining new or different ways of being. The creatures in our lives can offer us a window into the intimacy and mystery of the divine.”
How might we celebrate the creatures of our lives and what they teach us about God? How do you experience nature singing praise to the divine source of all that is? What might our praise of God be like if we truly entered into song in communion with the earth and her creatures? Does our vision of the Kingdom of God include a true sense of communion with all?
(Top) Sofia Christine, a Northwest artist who makes delightful jewelry from her images. http://www.ambrozijnart.com/jewelry/abouticons.htm
(Middle) Victor Kinza is an artist who uses Russian folk art as his inspiration and has some wonderful images, to find the Francis image click on “Lubok Art Originals” and then on “17”. http://www.victorkinza.com/
(Bottom) Black Dog of Wells Fired Terracotta and Ceramic Murals (a company in the UK) http://www.blackdogofwells.com/murals.php
-Christine Valters Paintner