As I sit here on my computer, I look through a window at my neighbor’s backyard. It is a beautiful golden sunset with the red maple trees reflecting the sun’s last fading rays. In the past, such things would fill me with immeasurable sadness and melancholy. Autumn and winter are always the two most difficult seasons of the year for me. I suppose it is the bear in me because I have always wanted to hibernate during the autumn and winter. Snow, falling leaves, long nights, and short days are just not my cup of tea.
Rather than feeling melancholy while looking at this scene, I feel at peace. I suppose it is that same feeling that St. Francis had, while he marched through the woods and fields of Umbria singing. He felt so alive and connected to God and His creatures that he put it into song. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the elements, and even fellow human beings were the subjects of St. Francis’s songs. He felt at peace out there in the wider world and I am sure that he was one who hate monastery walls.
There are many saints who have felt at home in the realm of nature. The great St. Seraphim of Sarov, a 19th century Russian saint, would sit outside of his cabin in the woods and feed bears with his bare hands. There is the story of St. Paul the Hermit and the lion that came and kept him company during the decades he spent in the desert. All of these saints were intimately connected with nature and the world around them because they saw God in all of His creation not just in other people.
The book of nature contains many beauties and mysteries. One can look at a leaf lying on the ground and meditate on death. A small seed conjures thoughts of our littleness and God’s infinite greatness. So many things to meditate on and to think about. Yet how many of us do it? How many of us look at nature as a background to our own story?
I think it is because we have forgotten how to listen in our lives. We listen to many other things, but not to the things that matter. Indeed, silence is something that is very beautiful and consoling. Many people are afraid of it because you are there confronting your own self. Yet it is there that monastics, religious, and others find themselves. The Trappists insist on silence like no other group of monks I know, yet out of that silence comes great wisdom and understanding. This does not mean being silent for silence’s sake, but rather to be able to appreciate God’s wonderful works without the aid of noise.
There is something beautiful, as some of you will agree, when you walk around a cloister or go to a monastery. The birds sing, the wind sighs through the trees, and the nuns walk around the many different paths as they arrive to sing Vespers. There is something unearthly and yet familiar about this scene because it happens to each one of us. There are days when we, like St. Francis, find ourselves singing the beauties of nature and God. Days when we find that voice which can only be found in the silence of our hearts.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!