This favorite portrait of me, taken by my photographer daughter, Molly, caught me in the act of “holy communion” with a beautiful sycamore. Very allergic to every other kind of tree, i am all the more devoted to these, and this giant, this treasured friend, always has advice for those who bow and listen: “Patience! Slow Down.”
October 4 is the day on which the whole world celebrates Saint Francis of Assisi, now more popular than ever, thanks to a Pope who daily gives more honor to that holy name. Not that the Saint needed or wanted any more. He is already beloved everywhere and by everyone, non-Christians as well as Christians, and even by “atheists” who often will state that “at least one saint was for real!”
Francis’ Oneness with his Creator was so clearly reflected in his union with all of Creation. To him God’s Heart was evident everywhere, from a simple, humble, ordinary piece of bread to the finest performance of Francis’ Biggest Brother, Brother Sun!
If Francis had been strolling on the beach with me that morning at Avalon-by-the-Sea, he would have gone into ecstasy over the Golden Chalice reminding him of the Precious Blood which his Lord poured out for him.
If he had been by my side in the woods last Thanksgiving morning amid a peaceful and perfect early snowfall, i know he would have stopped us both and told me just to listen to God’s Voice in the Silence, “Be still and know that I am…I Alone!”
i know these things because, as crazy as it sounds, St. Francis WAS with me at that mystical moment in time. And it was Francis who tells me that God expects me to reflect Him as clearly and as simply as this pond reflected the trees. He wants us to do this in words, as humans are wordy creatures, but also without them, as Nature knows so well how to do. St. Francis had seen thousands of Assisi Sunsets and had gazed at countless mountaintop vistas. He knew “Speechless!” He often told whatever companion was by his side, “We must go out to the world to preach the Good News, and occasionally we will use words.” Whatever the Season, whatever the situation, stormy or still, the Creator still resides in the soul of every creature. Flowers, birds, even rocks, they all do it so simply, so well. Creation has been around so much longer than this knucklehead; it knows how to say it all! Only humans complicate things, which for the most part mean just be-ing. If only we can learn the Language of Nature – Simplicity, Simplicity!, Thoreau knew it. Francis perfected it, and his legacy lasts forever.
My favorite “fun-fact” about Francis is how he was contemporary of Genghis Khan. Each was at the center of his half of the world. Not far apart in age, they died only months apart. But oh, what different lives and legacies! Genghis declared himself the “Conqueror of the World,” apparently told so by his god, and he set out to do it, slaughtering whole cities and provinces of men, women and children who would believe in his dream. He built great pyramids to himself throughout Asia with the skulls and bones of his victims. All of this as Francis set out to be nothing, nothing but the littlest brother of all – and servant of all, just a quiet clear mirror of God’s Heart – and so CONQUERED the hearts of all the world, in his time and all times since.
For St. Francis of Assisi Creation reached its highest mountaintop of all times and ages on that real date in real history when God Himself became one of us, a tiny, fragile, totally dependent and vulnerable Babe in Bethlehem. That Babe went on to become the Christ, the Savior of the world, and the night before He died told His followers that every time thereafter that they remembered that night at that table – with the simple everyday gifts of bread and wine – Jesus would really and truly come to be with them again. St. Francis firmly believed this to be the Ultimate Holy Communion. As someone once put it so well, “the greatest love story ever told is contained in the tiny white Host.” To really try to tell or to understand the life of St. Francis without this Host is impossible. Every communion with every creature, great or small, flows from and is made HOLY by that Communion with his Lord. It defines his life, and it explains just why the Saint was so madly in love with Creation; simply, it was because the Creator So Loved The Creation as to Become ONE WITH IT FOREVER. Only there does one go to the depths with Francis. i know that many are content to love and to imitate this amazing man without the Jesus-Link, and that is fine. There is enough in him, though teeny was he, to “feed the multitudes”…just as long as all know THERE WAS MUCH MUCH MORE…It is “the Jesus Link” alone which explains his “crazy love” and what turned a common little man into the Man of All Times and Seasons.