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
BY GALWAY KINNELL
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.
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