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A Cosmic Mutuality

St. Francis: A Message for Our Times

A Cosmic Mutuality
Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Jesus saw God in all that he saw. —James Finley

Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror through which we may pass over to God, the supreme [Artisan]. —Bonaventure (1221–1274)

In stories of his life, Francis is quoted as talking to animals and natural elements. He does not speak to them just as birds or wolves, but as mutual spiritual beings who are worthy of being addressed. He was always telling them who they are, why they should be happy, and why they make him happy. He said they give glory to God just by being who they are! One of his early biographers wrote, “We who were with him saw him always in such joy, inwardly and outwardly, over all creatures, touching and looking at them, so that it seemed that his spirit was no longer on earth but in heaven.” [1] That may sound sentimental to our modern ears, but perhaps that is what a saint looks like—completely attuned to God’s presence everywhere and at all times.

Francis talked to larks, lambs, rabbits, pheasants, falcons, cicadas, waterfowl, bees, the famous wolf of Gubbio, pigs, and hooked fish that he threw back into the water whenever possible. He addresses inanimate creation too, as if it were indeed ensouled, which we know because his Canticle of the Creatures includes fire, wind, water, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and, of course, “our Sister Mother Earth” herself. [2]

So-called “nature mysticism” was in fact a worthy first path for Francis, and also for Bonaventure, the scholar who brought the vision of Francis and Clare to the level of a total theology, philosophy, and worldview. Bonaventure saw all things as likenesses of God (vestigia Dei), fingerprints and footprints that reveal the divine DNA underlying all the links in the Great Chain of Being. Both Francis and Bonaventure laid the foundation for what John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) would later identify as the univocity (one voice) of all being, and what Dawn Nothwehr, a Franciscan sister, calls “cosmic mutuality.” [3]

Creation itself—not ritual or spaces constructed by human hands—was Francis’ primary cathedral. His love for creation drove him back into the needs of the city, a pattern very similar to Jesus’ own movement between desert solitude (contemplation) and small-town healing ministry (action). The Gospel transforms us by putting us in touch with that which is much more constant and satisfying, literally the “ground of our being,” which has much more “reality” to it, rather than theological concepts or ritualization of reality. Daily cosmic events in the sky and on the earth are the Reality above our heads and beneath our feet every minute of our lives: a continuous sacrament, signs of God’s universal presence in all things.

References:
[1] The Assisi Compilation, chapter 88. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J. Wayne Hellmann, William J. Short (New City Press: 2000), 192.

[2] Francis of Assisi, The Canticle of the Creatures. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, The Saint (New City Press: 1999), 113–114.

[3] Dawn M. Nothwehr, Ecological Footprints: An Essential Franciscan Guide for Faith and Sustainable Living (Liturgical Press: 2012), xx.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 45, 46–47; and

In the Footsteps of Francis: Awakening to Creation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), CD, MP3 download.

Epigraphs: Finley, Interior Castle (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2018), online course.

Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey to God, I, 9, trans. Ewert Cousins (Paulist Press: 1978), 63.

Image credit: Early Autumn (detail), Qian Xuan, 13th century, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror through which we may pass over to God, the supreme Artisan. —Bonaventure
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