St Francis and Spirituality For The Ecological Crisis

Today is one of my favorite days at church because I get to bring my dog. I get to meet people’s pets. I have loved St Francis day since I was a kid.

St Francis Day is also now the culmination of a season in the life of the church. All through September, as fires raged out West, and hurricanes battered Puerto Rico, Florida, the Philippines, even Canada. As we saw images of dried up rivers in Europe and Asia, and as folks down the street here in Ucity with continued to clean out from historic floods, all this past month we have been praying for our planet. This is a relatively new season for the church. It was first proclaimed by the patriarch of Constantinople in 1989, and I think it is important. As we face overlapping ecological crises, we need prayer.

It may sound strange to say that the response to the climate crisis is prayer. I think sometimes even the most committed Christians relegate spirituality to a sort of “woo woo” place. Do we think prayer changes things? Or do we think of spirituality as something private, something we do on Sunday morning at church, or on a cushion at home by ourselves. If you’re there, let me say, I think we need a broader understanding of prayer, a broader understanding of spirituality. We need prayers that bring us together for real change.

The spiritual teacher and theology professor Barbara Holmes invites us to count more practices as Spiritual. Spirituality isn’t just reading your Bible and holding silence. She says, “My contemplative practices include writing, music and dancing, prayer, stillness, social justice activism, and teaching.” In other words, spirituality isn’t just for the introverts. Our world needs inspirited people to work together for change. We need to bring our grounded and whole selves together to work toward solutions.

Holmes is informed by her upbringing in the black church. She understands that prayer isn’t something just for the comfortable. Spirituality is the way through the crisis. I’ve been holding on to her words lately, because she says this: “Despite all evidence to the contrary, I insist on seeing our current state of affairs as the rupture of one state of being that will prepare us for another reality.” Prayer helps us through the rupture. Spirituality prepares us to step into what is next hopefully.

In this sense, our practice of faith is at least in part about maintaining an inner curiosity. For generations we have approached our planet with a spirit of dominance. We have subdued the earth. Scientists too, a generation ago, believed they were going to categorize and systematize their way to intellectual dominance. At one point we thought we would know all there is to know about nature. The best ecologists, the best scientists now chuckle at this arrogance. The complexity of creation is so deep and wide we will never analyze our way to mastery. No. Rather, maintaining a spirit of curiosity, cultivating openness and wonder leads to more breakthroughs.

In today’s Gospel Jesus thanks God, “because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have shown them to babies.” Spirituality is about recovering a childlike capacity, for wonder, for awe, for hope. Spirituality is about letting go of all we think we know, all the doomsaying around us. Spirituality is about listening and watching, really attending to the world around us.

That’s part of why I think St Francis would love sharing his feast day with our beloved pets. Francis was a social justice crusader. He gave up his own wealth. He served the poor, built hospitals for lepers. Francis advocated for his neighbor. And Francis had a childlike love for nature.

I think Francis would point to our pets as spiritual teachers. They can help us remember there is more to life than the bad news in the paper. There are walks, and cuddles, and puddles of sunshine. Our pets can be sacramental reminders that this world is not, in the end, all about us. We share creation with all creation. We are one part of the whole.

In that sense our pets can play a part in our spirituality. Thank God. Because friends, we desperately need a deeper and broader spirituality to confront the human driven climate crisis. We must invite God to inform our work, if this difficult moment is able to be transformed. If we are able to step back from ecological disaster, it will be because a group of grounded, spiritually-inspired people came together and dared to work for change.

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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