The Green Saint, the patron of animals and the environment

Anthony Strano, April 2012

It is early April, early morning and the curling mist fills the valley below Assisi. The only things I hear are the birds and the bells which chirrup and chime in turn. Otherwise a silence embraces the dawn lit city. A silence that has existed, I am sure, in Assisi during the time of Francis and Clare.


As I gaze outside my room there are two tall pine trees totally occupied with Francis' chattering sisters, to whom he once said: "little sisters, if you have now had your say, it is time that I should also be heard.' It is said after these words they became silent and listened to him. However at the moment the birds are still chattering away obviously happy to feel the sun's topaz light aureole their tiny heads and glow, like golden hosts, onto their open melodious tongues. For a moment it looks like a new painting by the great master Giotto, who is well known in this city.

Enjoying the tranquil hills of Umbria I could forget the clamor, clatter, push and rush of the cities I usually find myself in and experience the serenity and beauty of nature, which activated my own inner tranquility.

Francis of Assisi created his spiritual gentle revolution by first getting close to nature and tuning in to her serenity and principles. He provided an alternative to a legalistic, theologically congested church which had forgotten the simplicity of its own original spirit. His experience of the Divine had reminded him of a Universal Benevolence, which he felt was reflected in the interconnectedness of life not only of humanity but also of humanity with animals, nature and her elements. It became his task to remind others of this divine love and intrinsic interconnectedness. No wonder he is regarded as the Green Saint, the patron of animals and the environment.

At his hermitage just outside Assisi I saw a bronze statue of him lying on the ground and two companion monks with their circled fingers held up to the sky measuring something. It is said that Francis loved to gaze up at the bright Polar Star and his companions were trying to measure certain aspects of that star. The earth and sky were also his companions.

Francis learned to be realistic as well as spiritual for he stated: "Start by doing what is necessary, and then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

To make the impossible possible is a sign of real spirituality, to achieve what others cannot dream of. What others may call crazy or unrealistic but is accomplished by an individual step by step is a kind of sanctity: an integrity of spirit

Francis once said:

"Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society."

"Sanctify" is not just a religious term he is using but it is his deeply felt sense of wholeness and oneness with nature and humanity and unlimited trust in the Divine. To achieve this sanctity he realized that he and his spiritual companions had to absolutely let go of selfish possessiveness and the greed of being. The respect we give to that interconnectedness of life and to life's resources is an answer to the wars and crisis we see around us today and what he himself had experienced in medieval Italy. He was so shocked by war's brutality and violence that he broke down and had to reposition himself, his purpose and his code of being. This breakdown is vividly represented outside the Basilica of St Francis where a statue of him on a horse captures his sense of utter desolation and disillusionment as both horse and man limp back from the war.

So in his hermitage away from his task of rejuvenating Christianity, traveling over Italy and to countries such as Egypt, Corfu, Syria, aligning himself with the poor and sick, Francis found the time to gaze at the stars, mountain, flowers, water and trees. He also spent time talking to the animals and to his brother sun and sister moon. Giotto captures all of this in the paintings which decorate the basilica of Francis where we spent Good Thursday early morning in meditation. A small group of us, who had especially come for a two day dialogue, shared a collective silence for about one hour. Two days earlier a small group of Buddhists, nuns, yogis, Platonists, Christian meditators had actually come together to discuss the creative and healing power of contemplation as a contribution to today's crises.

Certainly our group felt that inner silence was a crucial start for newness in thought and action. Greece came up as an example of crisis and our Platonist friend from Germany perceptively stated that the crises has first started in Greece because that is the heart of western culture and all western culture , to a smaller or greater degree is suffering from the same malaise. So Greece as the parent receives the first blow of the Western collapse. He went on to say that where the crisis is also exists the solution. The roots of heritage hold the antidote to the poison.

The American coordinator of our Contemplative Alliance stated that now it appears to be the time that spiritual principles need to be valued and applied for social transformation. Thought, word and understanding are necessary but also action. So thinkers do not just keep on thinking, speakers do not just keep on speaking, analysts do not just keep on analyzing but also act. Action that can be effective when a contemplative empowering has happened individually and collectively to change the anachronistic routes of thoughts and behavior. Without that inner transformation then the same consciousness keeps repeating the same mistakes. The wheel keeps turning in on itself and there is no exit. All innovation began and was sustained by a transformation in consciousness. To act from a space of transformative silence facilitates the application of spiritual principles into social living. Otherwise either we rehash decrepit formulas or become too complacent.

As Plato said:

"The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."


Part of an article published in Huffington Post:
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