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Center for Action and Contemplation
Listening to Creation
Listening to Creation

A Place of Belonging

Friday, April 26, 2024

Father Richard describes Francis of Assisi’s early days of ministry and how he related to nature:   

Francis sets out on the road, excited because he knows his vocation is to be a contemplative, spending time in nature in solitude and prayer, and to be in active ministry and to preach to people what he’s experienced. Along the way, he sees a tree filled with birds. He approaches the tree and the birds don’t fly away, so he starts talking to them. We have several accounts of this first sermon which is not to human beings but to animals, to birds. Maybe it’s been romanticized, but the story is that they stayed and listened to him. At the end of the sermon he says, now go off, because I’ve told you who you are.   

For the rest of his life, Francis is in relationship with a variety of animals, birds, fish, trees, and flowers. He always tells these creatures, “Do you realize that by your very existence, you are inherently giving glory to God? So just be who you are. Every animal, every created being has a unique thing to do. Each of you, do your thing; and in that doing, you are giving glory to God!” He would take delight in everything doing its thing. This is a mutual mirroring and I think it allowed him to do his own thing. He realized that just by being Francis, in all his freedom and joy, he also was giving glory to God. He has no trouble being alone because mirrors are everywhere.    

The only reason I can talk about Francis’ relationship with nature with some confidence is because it’s honestly what I have experienced on my Lenten retreats in the desert. I know it may sound fanciful, but everything becomes a mirror—whether the shape of rocks or the color. I’d collect a whole pile of rocks by the end of the five weeks because they were always naming something about me, and I didn’t even know what it was. All I’m saying is the whole world comes to life: every kind of cactus, every kind of tree or dead branch, the sunrise, the sunset, the different kinds of birds. I find myself in the middle of a universe of belonging.     

David Whyte echoes this message in his poem “The Sun.” Father Richard shares an excerpt:   

… I want to walk   
through life   
amazed and inarticulate   
with thanks….  

I want to know   
when I lean down to the lilies   
by the water   
and feel their small and   
perfect reflection   
on my face….       

I want to know   
what I am   
and what I am    
involved with by loving   
this world   
as I do….  

I want to be found by love,   
… I want to come alive   
in the holiness   
of that belonging. [1]  

[1] David Whyte, “The Sun,” from The House of Belonging: Poems. Copyright © 1997 David Whyte. Reprinted with permission from Many Rivers Press, Langley, WA.  

Adapted from Richard Rohr, In the Footsteps of Francis: Awakening to Creation (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2010), webcast. Available as MP3 audio download.

Image credit and inspiration: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photo, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. Awe is as close as the way a butterfly alights on a flower in the yard outside.  

Story from Our Community:  

There is a member of my church who has always been difficult for me…. Sometimes, interacting with her takes every bit of patience I have. Through reading the Daily Meditations, I have actually come to see her as a teacher. I’m finding compassion by understanding that her way of being results from personal pain. Slowly, I have come to appreciate this woman’s gifts, which are many, and even occasionally seek out her company. I am coming to understand how she enriches my life. It’s a blessing I never expected. —Sarah S. 

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