A Canticle to Creatureliness
In 1224 whilst recovering from an Illness, St Francis of Assisi whose feast we celebrate, sat looking out across the Umbrian plain. He was at the window of the Church and Convent of San Damiano that he himself had restored, stone by stone with his own hands. He was almost blind due to an illness he contracted in Egypt whilst trying to broker peace between the rapacious crusaders and the Muslim leader, the Saladin. He was broken in body and mind and needed to heal.
When we are tired, or grieving, feeling a failure or overstretched can we find a window on nature, an opening to the wild world, an aperture to greenness?
As Francis sat there a song, a psalm, a canticle began to form in his soul. It has become known The Canticle of the Sun or the Canticle of the Creatures. It was written in the Umbrian dialect and was probably the first poem to be written in Italian and is still learned by Italian children at school. Here is the first part:
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honour, and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
This is a love song, Francis began his life as a partying, nouveau-riche, young man imitating the troubadours of his day with songs of courtly love sung under the windows of the beloved. Then he left behind his old life and changed class. Moving from the majore to the minore. He called his order the brothers of the lower class, the order of friars minor. Now he sings his love to song to the Lord and his creatures with whom he feels a familial connection.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.
Everything is experienced as a sister, a brother, a mother, or a father. Even infirmity and death are part of it all.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Here is an invitation for us to find our green window and settle by it day by day. To ask ourselves how we are really feeling, what have been our delights and what have been our desolations and then to allow ourselves to fall in love with the world in the window. To let it take all of our feelings and return them to us as relatives. To write our own canticle to the creatures.
Here is my Canticle.
A Canticle to Creatureliness
‘Out of the lowest depths of illness,
misery and rejection, the man who had so loved to sing …
recognized everything in creation as
his sister and brother and friend.’
Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi
To find myself in the wonder of it all,
caught unawares, or just unhurriedly
attending to the world around me.
To be dwarfed by a galaxied sky,
doming, arcing, and revolving over
the little space I briefly occupy.
There is no gratitude like the one
that breathes its first gasp
when the shafts of the smoky sun
tap out a spring rhythm on the new buds.
That sun who is regal, inducing fealty,
I want to bow down to in the radiance
that warms my wintered yet wakening plot
The night sky has called to me through
the dark months, bending my gaze up
to the jewellery of the firmament and the moon,
sometimes so bright I have her shadow.
The sure power of the wind in the trees
around my house whose resilience
is most apparent when they sway and bend.
And the buffeted birds making raids
on the feeders, break-stick feet clinging
to life and flourishing in my provision.
Down to the river in my valley—tannined,
tea-like, beery waters a constant commentary
on the futility of the ephemeral and panicky.
And the water in my white bath a soak away
for my tensing-against-life body, worn down
by my ill use, finding liquid easement.
Oh, and the blaze that illuminates my nightness,
jubilantly sparking into the winter cold
with memories of bonfires with my grandma
and with the promise of brightened circles.
Making a fire can be such an act of hope.
Then there is the mothering in many guises
that the more-than-human world graces,
bounty unfathomable but not inexhaustible,
pushed to the end of its tether by us,
yet renewing her covenant in every spring.
Her forgiveness of our abuse is a call to me
to take stock of the blows I have received
and to absolve my way to amnesty and release.
The acceptance of aging and brokenness
in praise of robust vulnerability beckons
in the pains my body aches and grieves with.
And the dying of it all, the end of every beginning,
I find no wisdom or solace in avoiding it.
Better to grasp its ardent hand in mine
And hope for buds beyond the leaf fall.