Fall is my favorite time of the year - the crisp, cool air, and the multi-colored trees (like Nature's own tie-dye, eh Lime?) just quicken my steps and bring a joyful smile to my face. When I'm out on my bike on days like that, I simply can't keep myself from grinning as I pedal, just from the sheer joy of being alive in such a world. And I think of how, at the end of each Day of Creation, "God saw that it was good."
It calls to my mind our vacation this past summer, when Molly and I and our four youngest kids stayed for a week in a cabin Up North. A few times during the week, we visited the nearby Cross In the Woods, a Catholic shrine a few miles from where we were staying. The shrine is run by the Franciscan order, which organizes its life around the teachings and ideals of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is a very interesting man, eccentric and holy in the way that is almost unique to certain canonized saints of the Roman Catholic Church.
At the Cross In the Woods, there is a lovely little nature walk (and if you know anything about St. Francis, a nature walk is right up his alley, so to speak), with little stations along the way, each displaying a verse from St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun, a nature hymn which Francis wrote shortly before he died. I had generally ignored the Canticle, figuring that, as popular as it was among certain Catholics of an 'enviro-leftist' persuasion, especially back in the 60s/70s, that it might be somewhat dubiously 'orthodox'.
But, you know, I've grown in some ways, in the last 30 years, and I've come to appreciate many things of which my younger self was dubious. And I've always enjoyed walking in the woods. So, on our recent vacation, I happily set out to enjoy the shrine's nature walk, and the thought and spirit of St. Francis. And I found the Canticle, at least as rendered into English on the walk, to be utterly delightful. And so, I offer it here for the enjoyment of my friends:
Canticle of the Sun (St. Francis of Assisi; ca. 1225)
Most High, All-Powerful, All-Good Lord!
All praise, and honor and glory are Yours, and all blessing.
They are Yours alone, Most High,
And no one is worthy to mention Your Name.
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through all that You have made,
Especially Brother Sun, who brings the day and the light.
How beautiful is he, and how radiant;
He bears Your likeness.
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon, and the stars.
In Heaven You made them, bright and precious and fair.
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
And through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
By which You cherish all that You have made.
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust and strong.
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty,
And produces various fruits and colored flowers and herbs.
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon for love of You,
And those who endure sickness and tribulation.
Happy are those who endure in peace;
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be Yours, my Lord, through our sister, Bodily Death,
From whom no one can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
But happy are those whom she finds doing Your holy will;
The second death can do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
And give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.
St. Francis here is much more than a 13th-century proto-enviro-greenie. He rejoices in the Creation, and offers his gratitude to the Creator who shows His love to us, His creatures, in and through the goodness of the world He created for us to live in.
There are echoes here of the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, especially Psalm 148 and the deutero-canonical Canticle of the Three Young Men (in Catholic/Orthodox bibles, it is placed in the Book of Daniel between verses 23 and 24 of chapter 3), which was sung by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from within the fiery furnace. Also the hymn All Creatures of Our God and King, which was a favorite of our minister in the church in which I grew up (and which, it turns out, was specifically intended as a musical rendition of St. Francis' Canticle).
God is good, and worthy of thanks and praise, for He made the world good, and gave it to us to live in. . .
(edit 25Oct) - I got out on my bike yesterday; the 27 miles I got in put me over 1200 for the year (for the third consecutive year). It was a damp, dank, dungy gray day, but these are the peak-color days around here; for mile after mile, even though it was gray and overcast and occasionally spitting rain, I was riding through brilliantly yellow, orange and red trees, mixed with the last remaining bits of green. And today, the sun is out and the colors are just luminous.
Did I mention that fall is my favorite season? . . .