Preaching to the Birds (A Homily for Everyone)

There is no better hymn to sing on the Feast of St. Francis then Hymn #400 from the 1982 hymnal.

All creatures of our God and King,

lift up your voices, let us sing,

Alleluia, alleluia!

Bright burning sun with golden beams,

Pale silver moon that gently gleams,

O praise him, O praise him, 

Alleluia, alleluia!

This is one of my FAVORITE hymns. Like a good Episcopalian, I LOVE to sing all of the verses – all seven of them with the chorus in between! The hymn is a paraphrase of Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle to the Sun. 

I fondly remember the stone statue in my parents’ backyard. Covered with moss, the robed figure raises his arms in prayer and lifts his eyes to heaven. Birds perch on his shoulder, squirrels and foxes squat at his feet. A silent witness to the beauty of the earth. 

Brother Sun.

Sister Moon & Sister Stars.

Brother Wind & Brother Air.

Sister Water.

Brother Fire.

Mother Earth.

An incredible celebration of life, the canticle was written in a small cottage in San Damiono – built for Francis by Saint Clare and the Poor Sisters. Not so much written, more likely it was dictated – as Francis had lost his sight to an illness.  First sung by Francis and his “Best Bros”, Leo and Angelo, the verse welcoming Sister Death was added just before he came to his end.

Blind, the saint’s biographer tells us, Francis “could see more clearly with the inner eye of his soul the oneness of all creation.” Totally in tune with the electric current of life that binds us to all creatures great and small.

There are a few other saints, mostly Celtic ones, with a similar affinity to the natural world: Saint Mungo and his Hounds; Saint Kevin and the Blackbird; Saint Colman and the Housefly – who marked his place in his Bible (a precarious place for an insect!) But none so beloved as Francis.

Francis caught, blessed, and released the fish – he could have eaten for dinner. He successfully negotiated with a famously ferocious wolf terrorizing the neighborhood. The Christmas Creche is his invention: a tableau of a poor family with farm animals on the village green – to mark the Messiah’s birth. And he preached to birds! Yes, he preached to birds addressing them as his equals!

What’s not to love about Francis! 

Having spent so much time at home over the last two and half years, a whole lot us have been talking to animals, in conversation with dogs and cats, and maybe even our hermit crabs.   

Providing companionship, warmth and connection, cross-species friendships are flourishing. Shelters emptied out and rescue missions placed nearly all of their foundlings.

Now that we are returning to the office, it’s not yet clear how this new edition of “All Creatures Great and Small” is panning out. But mostly these cross-species friendships have been a HUGE success – a HUGE mutual benefit to both the people and the pets. 

Though dogs may have been happier about this than cats. “Dogs are in heaven that you are home 24/7,” someone has said, “but cats are like ‘I knew you were going to get fired and wind up on the couch someday.’”

I have been in deep conversation with Cheshire and Charlie, my two ginger cats. They have deigned to let me spend time in their world – aka my condo – and they have accommodated my moving my work life into their leisurely lives. Charlie likes to help with the laundry. Cheshire likes stalking the birds from behind the glass. Watching them wrestle in the morning is great way to start my day. They live in the moment, blissfully unaware of the virus or any bad news. Such zen, such peace they bring. And OMG, how much they make me laugh!

Check my Instagram feed, I have become something of a cat lady.😸😸

AARP did this great photo spread of people and their pets. Unusual ones, not just the predictable warm and fuzzy ones. Let me introduce you to a few of them.

Karen loves her two Coon Cats and the Coon cats love her back. Unlike people, they are always positive. They lift her spirits no matter what. She says “When they love you, when they look in your eyes, they look right into your soul.”

Elise loves a yellow-naped amazon parrot and the yellow-naped amazon parrot loves her back. She brought him home from the vet clinic where she worked and now nineteen years they have been together. Like a feathered mate in the wild, the bird is sad whenever Elise walks out the door and ecstatic whenever she comes back.

Andie loves a horse named Handsome and the horse named Handsome loves her back. A retired pack horse, she brought him home from a dude ranch. When Andie pulls into the driveway, Handsome is ready to ride. He greets her with a “big out BRAY.” “I always feel welcome,” she says. “I admire his honesty – he is up front with his feelings.”

Christian, who owns a creamery, loves two rescue pigs and the two rescue pigs love him back. Not just smart, he calls them “enlightened, sensitive to his feelings” and almost polite. “It’s crazy” he says, “but they’ve helped me become a better human being.”

Not just pets, pets are people too. The best kind of people. Neighbors, friends, family. Loving, forgiving, and accepting of all of your faults. Compassionate, crazy and calm. They tether us to Mother Earth and put us in touch with our Creator. 

And in this life and in this time of great loss, you cannot get better friends than this. Remember that it is on his deathbed, that Francis sings this song:

And even you most gentle death,

Waiting to hush our final breath, 

You lead back home the child of God,

For Christ our Lord that way has trod;

Let all things their Creator bless,

And worship him in humbleness,

Praise God the Father, God the Son,

And praise the Spirit, Three in One:

O praise him, O praise him, 

Alleluia, alleluia!

Pax vobiscum,


Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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