Friday, April 23, 2010

All Creatures of Our God and King

St. Francis of Assisi may be the patron saint of the environment, and one of the most quotable saints around. But he’s not celebrated in my family. Mostly because of his feast day—the Blessing of the Animals, or as my mom calls it, the dreaded “Doggie Day.” In honor of St Francis’s love for animals, all the pets are invited to church for a blessing. And my mother (not an animal lover by any stretch of the imagination) has to put up with a horde of barking, tail-wagging, excitable dogs, roaming through church.

Francis may have invited the beasts and birds to hear his sermons, but in this ancient hymn, he widens that invitation to include the greater scope of creation. The lyrics to “All Creatures of Our God and King” come from a poem attributed to Francis, known as the Canticle of the Sun—or in some translations, the “Canticle of Brother Sun.” In the original Italian, Francis names various parts of the creation with family names: “brother sun,” “sister moon,” “brother fire,” “sister water,” and even “sister death.”

I love that in this canticle, we are praising God along in communion with all creation, not just the anthropomorphic animals we love. The dogs we bless in church on “Doggie Day” are already often accepted parts of our family. It’s easy to love one individual dog, when he’s wagging his tail and cuddling in our lap. But fire and water and earth are less tangible, less huggable. If fire and water and earth are our brothers and sisters, then what does that mean? What would the Christian story look like if, like this canticle, it emphasized humans’ place within the family of creation, instead of remaining separate?

Contrast that to the story we as Christians have been telling so far. Yeah, sure, God created the world and all that is in it, and God said that it was good… but then we get to the good bit of Genesis, right? The bit where we’re supposed to be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the earth. That’s the part we understand. Theologian John Cobb calls this God’s only commandment that humans have managed to obey to the letter. We look at creation, at trees and rivers and animals, for how they can help us.

What I think Christians lose sight of sometimes is the fact that we humans are part of the creation. The earth, the seas, the plants and the animals have been lovingly created by God, and pronounced to be very good. And so have we.

Even “sister death” is not demonized here but welcomed into the family. After all, death is how the life of creation sustains itself. The death of one creature nurtures the life of another. Maybe there’s room for us to fit into this cycle of life, instead of trying to remake the Good Creation into what we want it to be.

What sets us apart from the rest of creation, of course, is our image of God. We know the story. We are creation made conscious, in a way that, to our knowledge, no other part of creation shares. And that means we have the responsibility to be good stewards of this creation. But maybe we can see our relationship to creation, not as domination or subjugation, but as relation within a family. On this Earth Day, we can join the earth in song. With our brothers and sisters, four-legged and two-legged, with and without voices, we can praise God together.



Kelsea Nicole said...

I really like this idea of us as stewards of the Earth. When I'm watching birds or breathing in pine scent up in the mountains or watering my African violets, it's like a call that I can feel deep into my bones. Thanks for writing on it Margaret! P.s. here's another article about Earth Day. It's a little more political in some ways, but I like how the author calls environmentalism "creation care."

Kelsea Nicole said...

Woops forgot the link! Here it is: