As the 35th anniversary of the naming of Francis as the patron saint of ecology nears on Nov. 29, a friar offers thoughts about the importance of appreciating and caring for God’s creation, describing programs being held at Clemson University, where he is campus minister.
Recently, The New York Times announced the death of the New England poet Galway Kinnell. A copy of his poem “Saint Francis and the Sow” was given to me many years ago. Like stories of the Fioretti, this poem can be best understood through the hermeneutic of “The Canticle of Brother Sun.” It is a grateful acknowledgement of our place within the fraternity of creation. This poem graphically describes how the environment shapes our soul and hunger for God’s blessing.
Rereading this poem made me aware of the great influence the gentle hills, clarifying waters and winding roads of Western New England had on my life. Walking through the woods, “brooking” and rambling along country roads has always refreshed my soul. So, when a life choice presented itself, I chose “the road less traveled by.” That choice was indeed “a blessing rising up from within.”
Several years ago, I unexpectedly found myself among the Asaninka people in the Amazon. In their company, an original sense of wonder reawakened delight in the greenness of forest, the blueness of bugs and butterflies, and the fertility of land and water. As I was welcomed among them, I learned of their kinship with other life forms under the forest canopy and how they were all being threatened. Logging, mining, politics, pollution, drug trafficking and terrorism were indiscriminately destroying land and people. Their struggle made me realize the connectivity among people, their environment and other communities around the world.
The canopy of North America and South America is no longer two, but one. Choices made there and here are shaping our global soul. Climate change is a threat to all of us. Eric Rutknow’s book “American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation” (2012) reinforced this for me.
When I arrived at Clemson University in 2012, I learned that the Clemson Forest was the largest contiguous forest adjacent to a university. I knew then that I had found a home. For the past three years, diverse religious leaders have gathered with the friars of Clemson to celebrate the Spirit of Assisi. Last month, we came together to pray, to recite passages from our respective Holy Books and pledge our commitment to learn, assess, act and advocate for change. Following an offering of waters from rivers, streams and brooks in the forest and the region, we heard the resonate sounds of the Vidi Aquam and recited the St. Francis Pledge.
As a follow-up to Pope Francis’ anticipated encyclical on the environment, we will invite students, faculty and staff to join us in a reflective walk in the forest. Such a retreat into the woods, under the canopy of the Creator’s Love, will help us realize peace in every step. And, hopefully, inspire us to engage in the hard work of ongoing ecological recovery, reconciliation and flourishing of the Earth and all its inhabitants. I think Francis has it right. Unless you smell the fragrance of the trees, hear the sounds of the animal choir, hold the seeds and soil in your hands and embrace the breezes that surround you, it’s impossible to “know” the fraternity of God’s creation. I invite you to do the same.
— Fr. Bob is campus minister at Clemson, S.C., University.
Editor’s note: Information about the anniversary of the naming of St. Francis as patron of ecology, along with the St. Francis Pledge, can be found in the Justice and Peace section of the HNP website. Earlier this year, the Order of Friars Minor launched a website called Franciscans for Ecology.
Friars interested in submitting a reflection about a feast day, holiday or other timely topic for publishing in a future issue of HNP Today should contact the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. The seasonal reflection published most recently was by Joseph Nangle, OFM, who wrote about Respect Life Month.