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Every Creature Is an Epiphany

Francis and the Animals

Every Creature Is an Epiphany
Sunday, October 3, 2021

A person who knew nothing but creatures would never need to attend to any sermons, for every creature is full of God and is a book. —Meister Eckhart, Sermon on Sirach 50:6–7 [1]

In honor of tomorrow’s feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), this week the Daily Meditations team is sharing reflections on Francis’ affinity for the natural world and the animals who inhabit it. Fr. Richard reflects on the legacy of his spiritual father:  

Each and every creature is a unique word of God, with its own message, its own metaphor, its own energetic style, its own way of showing forth goodness, beauty, and participation in the Great Mystery. Each creature has its own glow and its own unique glory. To be a contemplative is to be able to see each epiphany, to enjoy it, protect it, and draw upon it for the common good.

Living close to nature as he did, Francis could see Christ in every animal he encountered. He is quoted as talking to or about rabbits, bees, larks, falcons, lambs, pigs, fish, cicadas, waterfowl, doves, and the famous wolf of Gubbio, to name just a few. Those of you who love dogs know that each one is uniquely gifted by God and blesses our lives in special ways. Their unconditional love, forgiveness, and loyalty show us what God is like. My successive dogs, Peanut Butter, Gubbio, Venus, and now Opie, have enriched my life in many ways.

I really think human beings need someone to love, someone to awaken us to the flow of love and to keep that flow going. I can understand why so many people have adopted pets to ease their isolation during the pandemic! I often wonder if there doesn’t have to be an object (which then becomes a subject) whose goodness, truth, and beauty draw us out of ourselves. That someone doesn’t even have to be human; it can be an animal to whom we give ourselves and through whom we feel ourselves given back. Remember, our English word animal comes from the Latin word for “soul” or anima. Animals are ensouled ones!

I will never forget Venus’ amazing ability to make eye contact with me. She’d come to my bed around 5:30 in the morning, put her head on the side of the bed, and just look at me. And I’d roll over and try to get my eyes open and look back at her. Humans can’t seem to sustain eye contact for long. But dogs just keep gazing at us with their very “soulful” eyes. And I’d wonder: What did she see? What was she thinking? What was it that she genuinely seemed to like in me? They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I’m convinced these beings that we thought lived at a rudimentary level of consciousness can see the one thing necessary: love! They don’t get lost in labeling and categorizing. Maybe that’s why they can maintain the flow of love—often unconditionally.

References:
[1] This apocryphal book is included in Catholic but not Protestant Bibles.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Every Creature Is a Word of God,” Radical Grace 24, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 3;

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 46; and

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 229–230.

Story from Our Community:
In 2015 I was blessed to experience a miracle in Assisi, Italy. I have been a social worker for many years and an advocate of mindfulness—being present in the moment. My journey now is to increasingly gain confidence in incorporating ‘spirit’ into my work. Thank you so much, Fr. Richard and CAC, for giving me the confidence to know I am on the right journey. And of course, thank you Saint Francis for somehow choosing me! May I forever be humble. —Mark L.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 10 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to “Dr. B” as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: The simple scene of a cow grazing is easy to pass by without a thought – but it is also a holy moment. Sacred and mundane are found together in the form of an ordinary creature.
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