Monday, August 1, 2016

Fire and Water

We had a fire day up here in the Sierras this Saturday.   First, at a memorial for an old church friend, we could hear fire sirens constantly, and the roar of giant fire planes.    Later on, at mass down in the foothills, the church was evacuated due to an entirely different fire.     The fire near our house was quickly controlled, but the one in the foothills has spread and is only partially contained.

Recently I read St Francis's Canticle, and noticed how the praise subtly shifts during the song from the unequivocal praises of natural things, to the blessings through tribulation.    Sister Water and Brother Fire are both praised in the canticle, towards the middle:

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

These praises come towards the middle and in my reflections at least almost serve as a hinge.   Water and fire are lifegiving yet also dangerous; sometimes catastrophic.    There are so many things like that.

Apparently, according to the site I linked to, the thematic shifts of the canticle are associated with its composition, as the three different sections were composed at different times in the saint's life.    Even the praises of nature at the beginning, however, are associated with suffering, since Francis apparently composed them when he was undergoing the stigmata, and was reflecting upon how we humans mis-use the gifts we are given by God.

I hadn't noticed the connection until I started writing this, but of course, Pope Francis's exhortation Laudato Si begins with a reference to this very canticle.    The whole thing is in the vein of St Francis's praise/ lament.   We have been given such marvellous gifts.   If we value them the way they should be valued, perhaps we will be careful how we use them.

The friend whom we memorialized this weekend chose hymns for her service that reflected this love for natural things and trust in God who gave us these things:

  • How Great Thou Art
  • Prayer of St Francis
  • Be Not Afraid
  • Because He Lives
One of her grandsons said that she told him to be a "ten percenter".   She had a rather counter-cultural definition of the term -- she told him to leave everything 10 percent better than he found it, and backed it up by instilling in him a habit of bringing a trash bag with him to the lake or forest, so he could pick up the trash left by careless people.   He said that as a kid he thought it was unfair that he had to undo the damage done by other people, but as an adult he realizes that this is more than a habit, it is a way of living.   

I want to remember that about her, and try to live that way too.   In her life, stewardship and concern for others were closely linked, in a very practical and quotidian way.    If every Christian lived like her, I don't think the pope would have had to write his exhortation.   

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