Otis & Friends 3I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

Prairiewoods was founded in 1996 by six Franciscan Sisters on principles of ecology and spirituality. Here are some thoughts from one of those foundresses, Betty Daugherty, FSPA, on the important role humans play in caring for Earth …

“We humans are evolution come to consciousness.” This quote by Ilia Delio, OSF, in an article in the magazine Human Development, expresses a widely accepted truth to those familiar with the scientific story of evolution. It is a simple statement but profound in its meaning.

Ilia Delio is a Franciscan and, though it may not be apparent, her message is deeply Franciscan. That becomes clear when we accept St. Francis as an example of a very evolved person, of someone conscious of his own intimate connection to the sacred community of Beings around him, of someone totally aware that he is kin to all that is.

In reading the life of Francis, we can’t miss his ecstatic joy, the amazement and love of creation that floods his soul and swells into song. His connections to creation are spoken in the language of the sacred.

Ilia relates how Francis, immersed in prayer before an icon of the crucified Christ, is opened “to the reality of God’s presence in the human person and in nature.” To him everything is related because “everything is created through the divine Word.”

Francis is all about relationship; not a relationship based on hierarchy, power and control, but one of sisterhood and brotherhood, of connection and engagement. His stance is one of humility and gratitude.

The view of the cosmos in the thirteenth century was certainly different than it is today, but Francis, the mystic, knew within himself that he and all of creation emerged out of the same Love. Without knowledge of quantum physics and all the ways in which the new cosmology reveals the connections between spirituality and science, he saw that all things are related. All created things—not just human beings, animals, the birds he preached to or the wolf he tamed, but also the sun, moon, water and wind—were his sisters and brothers.

In his spirituality we find the same understandings that science highlights for us today: the sacredness and interconnectedness of all existence, the interdependence of all life.

We can see the relevance of this spirituality as we look at all the challenges before us today: millions of people living in brutal poverty and without hope while a very small percentage enjoy an opulent style of living; a culture based on run-away consumption with little regard for the resulting degradation of the planet; fear and anxiety winning out over a sense of peace and security.

Were Francis here now, he would be as disturbed as any of us at what Ilia calls the three major crises we face today: “an overstressed planet, excess energy consumption and global warming.” We are, she says, “on the brink of catastrophe,” destroying God’s creation that Francis praised so lyrically.

No doubt, Francis would be amazed and puzzled at how alienated we have become from the planet and its ecosystems, not just physically separated from the created world but lacking any sense of a common sacred origin.

We often read that the environmental crisis we are experiencing is really a moral or religious issue. This has been stated over and over in past years by popes, bishops and a whole range of spiritual leaders, people who are convinced it is a religious issue because it is fundamentally a crisis of meaning. If the crisis we are in is a moral and spiritual issue, Ilia suggests, then the remedy must be seen in those same terms.

Ilia points out that Christianity has often been more absorbed in a future life beyond this one with a focus on personal salvation, rather than on cherishing and protecting a creation that is sacred and still evolving. We are just beginning to realize that all is connected; spirituality and religion, economics and ecology, politics and social issues are connected. All are part of a great and intricate web of Being.

It was Francis’ deep understanding of the presence of the divine in nature that gave him such a sense of right relationship with creation. And as a human being with the capacity for self-conscious reflection and the ability to make moral decisions, he chose a path of reverence and inclusion.

For us today, we are coming to understand that it will only be through a spiritual relationship with Earth and all its creatures that we will have the strength and courage necessary to live in what Thomas Berry calls “a mutually enhancing” relationship with the natural world.

This way of living an incarnational theology in a world that reveals God’s beauty is traditionally Franciscan. The well-known liberation theologian and former Franciscan Leonardo Boff, in his book Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, writes that what we need is a “true revival of the sacred,” a re-enchantment and reverence. He says that only a sense of the sacred can bring us back from our exile and alienation. We need a “personal relationship with Earth,” one of love. Boff says that we cannot continue to think of ourselves as separate from Earth since “we are the sons and daughters of Earth, we are the Earth itself become self-aware.”

Murray Bodo, OFM, author of The Way of St. Francis, finds Francis’ sacramental view of reality—one that sees everything as a sign of the presence of God—as the only way to unify our lives. It demands a realization of our interconnectedness to creation and to Christ as its source and goal.

Bodo says that in 1224, Francis articulates in The Canticle of the Creatures how to “integrate the depths of the self by leaving self and entering into what you can see and hear and touch and feel and smell. God dwells in ‘deep down things,’ and you find God when God finds you loving the world.”

In the Canticle, Francis, the poet and mystic, tries to express what is happening within the depth of his being, the union of everything with God:

Praised be You, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
Who 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.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our sister, Mother Earth,
Who sustains and governs us.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks.

—Betty Daugherty, FSPA, Prairiewoods foundress