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The Blessing of Interdependence

The Blessing of Interdependence

Today is the feast day of St. Francis. No doubt we all can name several parishes nearby which are conducting services for the blessing of the animals some time this weekend. When I was growing up, all I knew about St. Francis was that I was born in a hospital named after him in Tulsa, and that he was a popular figure of lawn decoration, even in the very Protestant buckle-of-the-Bible Belt area in which I lived.

Yet St. Francis was more than just a statue we can use to decorate our gardens or a pedestal for a birdbath. St. Francis was known for praising creation and seeing humanity as intertwined inseparably within, not above, that creation. In 1980, Francis was named the patron saint of ecology by Pope (now saint himself) John Paul II.

Years after his death, small stories (in Italian, “fioretti” for “little flowers”) of St. Francis were collected and put together in a book called Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi, in the hopes of inspiring admirers of St. Francis to be able to emulate his example. One of those stories told of St. Francis preaching a sermon to birds:

“My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him. For that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple raiment. Moreover, He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world. Still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you. Beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children. Wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.”

354px-Giotto_-_Legend_of_St_Francis_-_-15-_-_Sermon_to_the_Birds.jpgThere is a lovely meditation about a painting by Giotto that depicts this story here.

Now, as I said, I did not grow up knowing much about St. Francis. But I did grow up singing hymns in church, by golly, and there was one that we often sang that particularly reminds us of the same things that St. Francis exemplarized—the first two verses of the classic hymn, “How Great Thou Art”, whose English lyrics were written by Stuart K. Hine:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,

And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;

When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur

And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze–

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art!”

It can seem hard to emulate much of St. Francis’s life today, in our busy, technology-driven, consumption-centered society. Yet I think one of the main ways we can bring something of St. Francis into our lives today is to be mindful—mindful of our place with creation, mindful of our effects upon creation, mindful of how dependent we still are upon creation—what Eucharistic Prayer C reminds us as “this fragile Earth, our island home.” As Americans, we love to celebrate Independence Day. I like to think of the feast of St. Francis as “Interdependence Day.”

We all have been blessed by the wonders of creation—humans and animals and plants alike. Of course, animals, whether wild or domesticated, are blessed by God, and scripture bears this out in numerous places. It is good and right that we as a church support a ceremony blessing animals in our own lives, who give us so much joy and unconditional love, reminding us of the love God has for us. They are our companions and our helpers, which is a truly holy calling, just we are called to be THEIR companions and helpers, remembering that we are all creatures and children of God. We are blessed by this calling to interdependence, to care for each other, throughout creation.

So today, may we have the opportunity to spend some time in God’s glorious creation, which testifies to God’s love for all of God’s creatures. If you share your life with companion animals, even if you do not have a chance to attend a pet blessing ceremony, I hope you take several minutes to realize that really, it is our joy to bless our animals, and indeed creation, every day, just as they bless us even more.

Leslie Scoopmire is a newly retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She will attend Eden Theological Seminary beginning in the fall of 2014. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.

“Giotto – Legend of St Francis – -15- – Sermon to the Birds” by Giotto – This file is lacking source information.Please edit this file’s description and provide a source.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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