In last week’s gospel we heard the story of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus leads three of his apostles “up a high mountain” (Matthew 17:1). In the bible, the experience of geography and landscape is important, and in particular deserts and mountains are places of encounter with the holy. I remember my own experience, growing up in Massachusetts, going north in the fall to hike in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and on cool October days hiking up a trail with family and friends, the sun shining, the sky blue, the air crisp, and the moment of arrival at the summit where we opened our backpacks and pulled out our bottles of water and Snickers bars and took in the expansive view – distant towns, lakes, the reds, oranges, and yellows of the turning leaves. There
was a stillness to it, and it was our own encounter with the holy.
And it was Franciscan – St. Francis himself, eight centuries before, was gazing at the leaves and hills and streams in the Rieti Valley below Assisi, and it was his experience of the beauty of the natural world that led him to compose his poem/song Canticle of the Creatures in which he gives praise to what he sees – the sun, moon, stars, wind, fire, air, water all around him, and sees all those things in terms of “brother” or “sister.” Notice that Francis uses relational terms – brother, sister – to refer to the created world. Which leads to a question: if the water is our sister, then what is our responsibility to the earth?
If the water is our sister, what is our responsibility to Falls Lake, to the Eno River, to the Atlantic Ocean, to the Gulf of Mexico? Francis offers us a deep vision of care for the created world. Pope Francis, with his encyclical “Laudato Si” (which means “Praised be”) follows up the witness of St. Francis with his
own call to us, in the 21st century, to care for our earth which has been given to us.
I have been reading a very fine book called The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams, and in the book she visits national parks throughout the United States, and calls our attention back to the need for wild spaces – deserts, mountains, mesas, plains, forests – empty spaces that allow us a sense
of awe and beauty at what God has created.
Blessings on your week!