The final session of my class on prayer at New Leaf School for Christian Living was about learning how to pray through God’s creation. In the same way that St. Francis learned to see how connected we are to the rest of what God made, I think we can and should learn how to praise God through all that is around us. It seems kind of strange that creation can teach us to pray and that we could even join creation in its ongoing praise, but I think St. Francis begins to teach us how (See the “Canticle of the Creatures” at the bottom). Scripture teaches that even creation groans to be set free from bondage, so why not proclaim the good news of liberation and freedom to the birds and trees?
Most of us, I think, have been taught to view creation from above, as though it is beneath us. I agree that humans are created differently than the rest of creation, but we are still creatures and we need reminders that on the same day God made us, God also made cattle and creeping things. Creation helps us see the paradox of God’s love as creator, that God, who is love and whose love cannot be lessened or diminished or separated, loves each part of creation fully and at the same time uniquely and individually.
Part of our exercise on Saturday for the session was to spend some time in conversation, literally, with creation. The exercise invited us to introduce ourselves to our surroundings, to sit and listen and perceive what was around us, and finally to find a friendly tree or animal to sit and tell our own story to. I had a lovely chat with a spider sitting in her web. It seems kind of silly to some people, and I think a portion of our group was a bit skeptical of some parts of the exercise, and I know that people who weren’t there seemed a bit skeptical of trying to talk to animals and trees and learn from them how to pray to God. But, I offer the spider as a true example of prayer.
Sister Spider is created with a purpose that she knows only from God-given instinct. She is an artist. God has created her to create, and every day she spins a web, a new piece of artwork different from every one that came before it, as part of her trust in God’s provision, the quintessential starving artist. If something bad happens–a rainstorm, a large animal, a human being passing through– the spider’s web is destroyed and she starts over. It is only by the grace and provision of God that she is provided for. The spider’s movements in creating the web are contemplative, just like using a labyrinth or saying a prayer over and over, she moves at a slow, measured pace, knowing only her vocation in life. Her artwork exhibits the tension between life and death, that as she co-creates with God, her art means the death of another part of creation. I long for the day in new creation where spiders will spin their webs and not have to kill their prey, where examples of beauty won’t be instruments of death. It’s no different than the image of the lion and the lamb, or the viper and the young child; God is renewing all of creation and we can learn to worship God from our fellow creatures.
Take the trees. In Albuquerque, I remember marveling at the cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande because they bow low to the ground, thirsty for the living water, almost prostrate before their maker. Such humility and loyalty in worship is natural; only human beings have been given the gift of choosing that kind of worship, but how often we choose otherwise.
Check out what Brother Francis thought about the animals. Given that this past weekend was the Feast of St. Francis, it’s appropriate that we had our session outdoors.
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
all praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through all you have made,
and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, bright, and precious, and fair.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy,
all the weather’s moods,
by which you cherish all that you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night. How beautiful is he, how cheerful!
Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister
Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
through those who grant pardon for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy are those who endure in peace,
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your will!
The second death can do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks
And serve him with great humility.