There?s a carved, wooden statue of St. Francis and the birds in a yard that I pass frequently. It?s nearly life-size, and I always take note of it. I love the idea of St. Francis preaching to the birds.
As the story goes, he addressed them as his ?little sisters, the birds? and reminded them of all the gifts that God had blessed them with. They could revel in the freedom of flight and they did not need to spin or sew because God clothed and fed them. St. Francis exhorted the birds that in response to God?s care, they should praise God in ?all times and all places.?
In fact, in St.Francis?s wonderful poem, ?Canticle to the Sun,? he exhorts all of creation to praise God: Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the wind and fire and all creatures.
St. Francis provides us with an image of a harmonious relationship within creation, a healthy balance between humankind and all living things, a world that together praises the Creator. But, the world in which we live hardly reflects that healthy balance. It is a world rapidly careening out of balance.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there are currently 218 bird species that are critically endangered. Since 1500, 190 species of birds have gone extinct, possibly including the ones St. Francis addressed. I recently heard the sobering statistic that by 2025, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The world we live in is not so much that of St. Francis, but rather the one St. Paul evokes when he writes in Romans that ?all creation groans.?
Creation groans when smog obscures the city skyline, waterways are contaminated, and a huge dead zone extends into the gulf from the mouth of the Mississippi. The good news is that each of us has the opportunity to be part of the solution, that there are many ways we can all be caretakers of creation, stewards of the earth we have been given.
Sunday is Earth Day, a day to pay special attention to the created world, to its beauty and its pain and to think about how we, as stewards, might act to restore the balance.
A friend of mine recently decided that her way to care for creation is to ?be fruitful and butterfly.? She started a project called Milkweed and Mustard Seed that is designed to increase the presence of milkweed. Milkweed is the only food source for the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly, an endangered species. Monarchs are pollinators that are essential to the health of our planet, so planting milkweed is creation care.
What if St. Francis were in the nearby yard and surrounded by milkweed and butterflies, along with the birds? That would be a wonderful image of stewardship of the earth, of restoring the balance that St. Francis and the birds proclaim.
This year, Iowa Wesleyan University is holding an Earth Day Conference called ?Stewards of the Earth? on Sunday, April 22. The keynote address by Father Bud Grant at 1:30 is called ?EcoLibrium: A New Stewardship of Creation.? The keynote will be followed by Earth Day workshops. All are welcome and invited to attend.