(E)pistle: St. Francis and The Sow

I’ve been thinking a lot about St Francis this week.  Tuesday was his feast day.   I’ve watched a blessing of the animals’ service and I have heard some good sermons about Francis’ commitment to the environment, and his solidarity with the poor.  But there is another aspect of Francis’ teaching, one which was brought up in a conversation with one of our students– Francis’ ability to transform our self images, often full of guilt, inferiority, and self-loathing, into something beautiful and holy.  Francis was able to see the presence of God in every living creature no matter how despised and discredited.  In fact his ministry began the day when, confronted with a leper (the lowest of the low in his society), he jumped off his horse and embraced the man.

It is all summed up in a poem the student shared with me about a lesser known story of St Francis.  We know he preached to the beautiful birds and even to a fierce wolf, but did you know he also laid hands on a filthy sow in her pen?

Saint Francis and the Sow


The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow

began remembering all down her thick length,

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the


from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and


from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths

sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

In our ministries, we are often confronted with those who hate themselves, who see themselves as worthless, unloved, damaged, even as garbage.   Our job is to prove to them, they are not trash, no matter what the world might say,  but in fact they are the beloved sons and daughters of God. Our job is to “reteach them their loveliness.”  It’s a tough job and takes a lot of patience and guidance from the Holy Spirit, but the resulting transformation is worth it.