Sunday, October 5, 2014

Francis: In Touch with Earth’s Soul

Jesus said: ‘Pick up a stone, and I am there; 
split the wood—I am there also.’ (1)

St. Francis wasn’t the only one with a special connection to animals. From time immemorial some people have been able to live “deeper in” nature than others.

Francis once commanded a noisy flock of birds in a tree to be still while he preached, and they not only obeyed to but stayed for the whole sermon, leaving immediately when it was over. Something in the energy of his very presence drew animals to him. St. Seraphim of Russia who befriended a bear. St. Cuthbert of Britain's limbs were said to have been warmed by sensible seals after he had stood ascetically in a tidal basin for too long.

Fables? Talk to the young forest ranger who once described to me how he moved through the forest so that the creatures wouldn’t hide from his presence. “People barge in like they own the place, he said. You have to walk softly, silently. Then they come out of hiding.” Or talk to Native American shamans and connecting with animal spirits. For that matter, you can talk to my wife, who has a remarkable way of befriending skittish animals. 

Tap-rooted into Paradise

These folk seem to have a foot in two worlds—one in the fabled Paradise of our human origins, when the First Parents communed with the soul of bird and beast, and another in our present "eclipsed" state, remote from the ancient mammalian/primate rapport with nature. The bible is not the only sacred lore that remembers such a Before Time.

Jesus seems to fit in this company. “What manner of man is this?” his disciples asked, and told stories about the effect of his presence not only on people, but on the natural world around them. He spent a sojourn in the wilderness ‘with the wild beasts’ and emerged unharmed. He stilled a violent storm on the sea of Galilee by speaking directly to it, as if to something intimate and familiar.  Jesus himself fits in this company.

Jesus seemed to live “deeper in,” in more vital contact with the soul and spirit of the world than other folks, like other holy men and women throughout history. They breathe the soul of earth as well as the Spirit of God.

The skepticism modernity brings to these stories goes hand in hand with our own soul’s disconnect with the spiritual aliveness of the world around us.  As bedazzling and beneficial as our civilized advances have been for humanity, they have come with a price—progressive distancing from direct rapport with the soul of nature, the soul of the planet itself. The Jesus described in the gospels is in touch both with his own civilization and the deep currents of power and life that flow through the soul of the world around him.

A way back into the world?

Perhaps, like some Zen monks, he and Francis, Seraphim of Moscow, the wise women of every earth-rooted culture, and the shamans could live with mind and body simultaneously in two states: deep, meditative connection with the depths of the ever-springing Life that pervades this world and the ordinary events of the day.

Early Christians, following the highly-disciplined Path he laid out for them, claimed that initiation into Christ “opened the gate to Paradise" and looked forward to a "restoration" of earth to its primal vigor. Maybe it's time to reclaim that ancient reading of Jesus and his Way. Is it a path back in to the world we are so ‘progressively’ destroying?

Surely there is a better path than the one our civilization is on.

1.  Gospel of Thomas, Logion 77

The graphic is St. Seraphim of Sarov with his companion bear. For more on this famous Russian saint, see

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