It is October 4th – feast day of St Francis and day to celebrate creation and all the creatures. It is the only day on the calendar I am 100% sure which saint it belongs too. There are more words and images of Francis in the western world than the founder of his strand of spirituality. His radical transformative lifestyle changed his little town and generations who followed, and continued to our time when the latest incarnation of the role of Bishop of Rome sent a definitive message to the faithful and non-believers alike in choosing the name Francis for his papacy. At the time one of my favourite liberation theologians, the Brazilian Leonardo Boff (also a Franciscan monk who had been kicked out by the previous administration) was welcomed back and remarked on the choice of the Argentinian of Francis – was not choosing a name but an agenda. The agenda was around simplicity, creation and care of the earth and a call to disrupting the institutional power. I had high hopes and there were early signs, and I remain encouraged, although long for more. This ancient global institution pivoting to these times, feels more like a shipwreck laden with barnacles where only time and/ or a tsunami might bring new life. Francis is releasing a new encyclical today on friendship. I am going to be interested in reading it. His last one (Laudato Si) was a powerful instruction on how to care for the earth and all that required personally and politically, and poignantly to go back to the basics and ‘rebuild the church’. Such a shame for the patriarchy and language and colonisation that much of the good gets washed away by the clumsy and lack of restitution the church, to say nothing of all the apologies to first nations, women and LGBTIQ+ . Francis of Assisi turned the tables and publicly admonished power, privilege and embraced simplicity, had a beautiful relationship with Clare of Assisi and together they offered an alternative lifestyle of poverty, service, stewardship and speaking truth that inspired generations. In their part of Italy, Clare attracted more women to her community, than men were able to attract to be their wives – it was very disruptive – and turned the tables on the economics of the region.
Francis was my father’s middle name as he was born Oct 3 and would have been 84 this year. I sang Donovan‘s version of Francis’ Canticle of Creation at his funeral and while he wasn’t a believer, he did love all of creation and respected his roots and traditions. The opening lines of this poem are: Brother Sun and Sister Moon, indicative of the close relationship Francis had with all of creation. From the most ancient of astrological surveys it is the Sun who rules as masculine energy the Moon as feminine. It is this deep friendship with the earth and the sky that has guided our species and all the instruction we need remains available to us should we look to the skies and look to what lies below our feet.
The cry of the earth for rehabilitation and decolonisation, is a lamentation, an ache. As her sisters and brothers we are being called to care for our Sister, our Mother, the earth. There is a strong trajectory in all world religions for care for the earth, simplicity and ecological justice. In my own tradition, it is often to Francis and Clare that I look, but they are not alone and throughout history and all around the world in communities in mountains, deserts, cities and slums individuals have risen up as lone nuts and founded movements, some of which have become institutionalised, and others that flowered for a single season, but it is the deep thread we can all pull on as activists and remind ourselves of our lineage and humbly make the use of this time we have to make our contribution. I think that is the message for me on this Feast of St Francis to take instruction from the sun and the moon, to recalibrate and set a course by the stars to take me back to my roots and to deeply listen to the land, its original custodians.
John O’Donohue says “friendship is an act of recognition” and maybe that is part of the pilgrim way, to recognise ourselves and familial relationships in the landscape and have the landscape invite us to see that in ourselves. Imagine if we could recognise the beauty around us in the heavens and on the horizon and know, really know, we are both custodians and reflections of this beauty. Nature is the pause and refresh button as well as the plug in and play for so many activists and this day is as good as any to celebrate all of creation and enter into more friendship and intimacy.
Arriving in Assisi to a rainbow, June 2013