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From the book Praying with Saint Francis of Assisi (available from Word Among Us Press), this meditation focuses on nature being a pathway to prayer. Prayers, readings, and directions for a guided meditation or prayer journey make this a good prayer experience for students and adults.
Theme: Francis proclaimed, "We are sister and brother to animals and plants, water and soil, earth and sky." Just as we meet the dancer in her dance, the painter in his art, and the poet in her finely crafted words, so we encounter the creator in Creation. Indeed, we are nature aware of itself, consciously creating itself, celebrating itself and its creator.
I pray with God's good Creation, of which I am a part, remembering that to spend time with my sisters and brothers in nature is praying--being with God.
I pray for God's good Creation. Like all creatures, we humans play a special role in Creation--not to be above nature or apart from nature but to care for nature.
Once when Francis was passing near a certain village he noticed a large flock of birds of different kinds all gathered together. Leaving his companions and going eagerly towards them, as they seemed to be awaiting him, he gave them his accustomed greeting. Surprised that they did not fly away as they generally do, he started talking to them: Brother birds, you ought to praise and love your Creator very much! He has given you feathers for clothing, wings for flying, and everything you need. He has made you the noblest of his creatures, for he has appointed the pure air for your habitation. You have neither to sow nor to reap, yet he takes care of you, watches over you and guides you. At this the birds began to rejoice after their fashion, stretching out their necks, spreading their wings, opening their beaks and looking at him, whilst he went to and fro amongst them, stroking their heads and bodies with the fringe of his tunic, and finally making the sign of the cross over them and sending them away with his blessing. (Clissold, The Wisdom of Saint Francis, pp. 59–60)
Pause: Recall a favorite scene from nature.
Praised be thou, 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 splendor;
and bears a likeness of you, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
through which You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be you, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
(Francis and Clare, pp. 38–39)
Francis and the birdbath are a common sight. We feel a sentimental tug when we think of this holy man and the birds. Like Jesus before him, Francis knew the power and joy of rejoicing in the blessings of God, that is, the blessings of nature.
Francis reminds us that nature includes not only animals but ourselves, our body and our soul. That is, nature is catholic; it includes all that is. Nothing is left out. Even the deserts and wastelands are included, and they are holy and beautiful. All is a blessing. Hence we rejoice in our God who is artist and lover, and with Francis we celebrate that in our home--the universe--we are all family.
Francis would understand the Native American boy of sixteen who tells about how he spent an afternoon off from school. "I went to my favorite place in the mountains. No one else knows this special place but me and one other friend. I sit in the silence for hours, and I listen to the trees or the sky or the animals speaking to me. This particular day I heard the trees."
This young man from Saint Catherine's Indian School in Santa Fe is studying to be a medicine man. For him, God's Spirit heals through nature; in his words, "We need to listen well if we want God's healing to touch us." Francis would agree.
- As part of this prayer, if possible, take a short journey out into the open. Go for a walk or bicycle ride, or just sit outside and bask in Creation. Be present to the wind, the sky, the sounds, and the smells. Perhaps you could respond to this litany of impressions with "Praise God!" For example, "For the swaying walnut trees, praise God!"
- Take some soil in your hand. Look at it; smell it. For a few moments, imagine all the ways in which we depend on the soil. Let these images come to mind and register and change, like flash cards. Then let the soil run out of your hand back to the ground, saying "Praised be thou, my Lord, for our sister Mother Earth." Repeat this prayer slowly, letting its meaning nourish you like the soil nourishes life.
- If you cannot go outside for a prayer-journey, you may wish to make a prayer-journey from your memory. Read these directions carefully, then close your eyes and make the journey.
Try to sit as comfortably as you can. Generally, it helps to have both feet resting on the floor; rest your arms in your lap--preferably uncrossed because crossing arms or legs cuts off circulation.
Relax. Close your eyes. . . . For a few moments, slowly breathe in . . . and out. . . . Focus on slow, relaxed breathing. . . . Now give your body a chance to relax too. . . . Starting with your feet, try to let go of any tension by tightening up the muscles first and then relaxing them. . . . Tighten . . . relax. . . . Now your legs--do the same with them. . . . Tighten . . . relax. . . . Now your torso . . . tighten . . . relax. . . . Let your arms rest too. . . . Feel the tensions of the day melt away. . . . Relax your shoulders and neck. . . . Finally, feel your jaw and face muscles relax. . . . Tighten them up . . . relax. . . . Breathe in and out slowly . . . in . . . and out. . . .
Now place yourself in a scene from nature, a favorite spot from a vacation, or compose in your imagination a comforting, beautiful scene with all of your favorite sights, animals, birds, flowers, and trees. . . . Just bask in the wonder of Creation. . . .
As you are relaxing in nature, Jesus comes to you. . . . He says, "Peace be with you." . . . He sits next to you. . . .
The two of you relax in each other's presence and in the presence of Creation. . . .
- Compose your own canticle to your sisters and brothers in Creation. Pray it frequently, and add to it as you experience nature in new ways.
- As an examen of conscience, recall two ways in which you have cared for Mother Earth over the last two days. Then think of two ways in which you could show more respect for Mother Earth.
- When was the last time you set aside time to appreciate God's gift of a sunrise or sunset? How could you learn to love nature better? Francis treated all creatures as brothers and sisters, with gentleness and respect. Do your patterns of consumption reveal a gentle spirit toward other creatures, or do they show abuse of Creation?
- Skim through the Gospels. Take note of the nature imagery used by Jesus in his teaching. Choose one image to be the focus of your meditation for a day.
- Find a line from "Francis' Words" that speaks most powerfully to you. Pray this line over and over. Use this line as a prayer throughout your day.
Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field which are there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith? So do not worry; do not say, "What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?" It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:26-34)
Complete your meditation with a prayerful reading of these words from the Psalms. Praise God from the heavens;
praise God in the heights; . . .
praise God, sun and moon;
praise God, all you shining stars. . . .
Let them praise the name of God,
who commanded and they were created. . . .
Praise God all the earth, . . .
fire and hail, snow and mist,
storm winds that fulfill God's word.
You mountains and all you hills,
you fruit trees and all you cedars,
you wild beasts and all tame animals,
you creeping things and flying birds. . . .
Be this God praised by all the faithful ones. . . .
AcknowledgmentsCopyright © 2009 Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this article to be freely used for classroom or campus ministry purposes; however, it may not be republished in any form without the explicit permission of Saint Mary's Press. For more resources to support your ministry, call 800-533-8095 or visit our Web site at www.smp.org.
Published January 2, 2000.