by Carol Dixon
Every October, an ecumenical prayer fellowship I belong to, The Companions of Brother Lawrence* celebrate St Francis-tide by meditating on the life of St Francis and thinking about what he might teach us today that is relevant for our time.
St Francis was born into a rich Italian family and was destined for great things as a soldier but, after a sudden illness while still a young man, he had what nowadays is referred to as an ‘epiphany’ moment, his whole outlook changed and he turned his back on his rich-boy roistering lifestyle and embraced poverty and humility, to become a ‘soldier for Christ’, dedicating the rest of his life to helping the poor and destitute, in whom he saw the face of Jesus. He recognised God’s presence everywhere, in everything – from the tiniest flower hidden in a rocky cleft to the glorious sun, giving life and warmth to all as the hymn whose words are attributed to him, ‘All creatures of our God & king’ reminds us. He also wrote a poem of praise, rejoicing in all God’s riches. (I later wrote a song based on the words – music available from email@example.com)
You are holy, Lord, the only God,
and your deeds are wonderful.
You are strong, You are great,
You are the Lord most high,
You are almighty, Holy Father,
You are the King of heaven and earth.
You are three and one, Lord God, all good.
You are the supreme God,
Lord God, living and true.
You are love, You are wisdom.
You are humility, You are endurance.
You are rest, You are peace,
You are joy and gladness.
You are justice and moderation.
You are all our riches,
And you suffice for us.
You are beauty, You are gentleness.
You are our protector,
You are our guardian and defender.
You are courage,
You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith,
Our great consolation.
You are our eternal life,
Great and wonderful Lord,
God almighty, Merciful Saviour.
A few years ago, we were invited to reflect on this poem of Gerald Manley Hopkins which, like the writings of St Francis, can reawaken our wonder and awe of creation and can help us re-capture something of the enormity of God the creator-God’s extravagance, huge generosity, holiness, beauty, strength & tender love.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. (G.M.Hopkins)
Some thoughts for reflection:
charged – electrical force – energy
Where have you experienced the power of God? Where do you see God’s huge creative energy?
shook foil – sudden flashes of light.
Ask God for inspiration. Notice what surprises you today.
why do men then now not reck* his rod? (*‘reck’ from ‘reckon’)
Reminiscent of the Shepherd Psalm – ‘your rod and staff keep me on the right path’. A day to confess our own forgetfulness of God – our part in a world oblivious of God.
all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared…
Time to ponder our exploitation of the planet, confess our failures and pray for better industrial and commercial practices.
nor can foot feel, being shod
What does it feel like to be barefoot? When do you feel most vulnerable?
nature is never spent
Recall the delight of the changing seasons. What do you notice today?
the dearest freshness
Pray for renewal: for hope to be renewed and for unexpected delight for yourself and others who may feel dry or weary.
the Holy Ghost….broods with warm breast,,,
Thank God for his loving nurturing. Pray for the life of God to be reborn in you.
Another hymn based on a prayer of St Francis is Make me a channel of your peace – this version by Daniel O’Donnell is accompanied by a children’s version of some of the incidents in Francis’s life:
A closing thought from Brother Lawrence:
Remember to think often of God, day and night, in all of your tasks, in all your religious duties, even in all your amusements. He is always at your side…. Do not forget him. Think of him often. Worship him all the time. Live and die with him. That is the Christian’s lovely task, in a word, our calling. If we do not know it, we must learn it.