“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”Martin Luther penned those words some 500 years ago. 400 years before Martin Luther, a man named Giovanni took this understanding outside and saw the hand of God everywhere in creation.
He was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone around 1181. Known as Francesco, as he was nicknamed by his father, was born into a wealthy Italian family, he was a wild youth and even had a brief & unsuccessful career as a soldier, as he tried to find his way in the world. But one day, in a dilapidated Church, Francis had a conversion experience –
“Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins."When he heard the call to rebuild the church in San Damiano, it was as if a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. He gave up the wealth he grew up with, the privileges he had, and the expectations that went along with it. He gave it all up, to live a very simple life. One his father would never understand and he devoted his life to God. He led a simple life –fixing the Church wherever he went – caring for those in need, preaching the Gospel wherever he went.
Francis' deep love of God overflowed into love for all God's creation—expressed not only in his tender care of lepers, in his unsuccessful attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade, & in his care of a town agitated by a wolf but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals, & his insistence that all creatures are brothers & sisters under God.
He understood that we have relationships within creation. As his biographer put it (on) p. 13 & 14 of the book Earth Friendly.
Those relationships were not to be exploited; they were not to be used for personal gain and then tossed aside. He thought wildflowers as important as the crops of the garden. Such understanding of balance, of connection to creation, is how farmers used to understand the land. Francis shows us that such relationships need to be cherished. As a contemporary author puts it, p. 15 & 16 of Earth Friendly.
He saw creation as a gift and through such openness to creation he called the sun, brother, the moon, sister; and he even called death, sister, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Francis wrote his Canticle of the Sun or Canticle of the Creatures after an illness in San Damiano. It identifies the elements of creation as sisters and brothers to us, and calls upon creation to join us as we praise God.
(Perhaps the best-known version in English is the hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King" which contains a paraphrase of Saint Francis' song by William H. Draper (1855–1933). Draper set the words to the 17th-century German hymn tune "Lasst Uns Erfreuen", for use at a children's choir festival some time between 1899 and 1919. (from Wikipedia))
His Canticle is remarkable for it sees the inherent harmony in God’s creation; that creation was made to work together, as brother and sister to one another, and to all of us who inhabit the earth. But as St. Francis always did, he returns to look at his brothers and sisters of earth.
“We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon, for love of You bear sickness and trial. Blessed are those who endure in peace, by You Most High, they will be crowned.” He upholds those who struggle. For those who offer pardon and those who find peace.
“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”(Words of Francis of Assisi) May we live into that peace, fully in our hearts and loving all of God’s creation – and see the gift of creation, see the Good news all around us and in the pets that are in our care. Amen.