The unique energy of the man himself is transported via the language that speaks about his life.
St. Francis's courageous effort to end the violence between Muslims and Christians during the Crusades, his tremendous humility, and his rapport with animals, resonate for me across time.
I read his biography during the lead-up to the Iraq war. I was struck by how little the plot had changed in almost a thousand years. Rather than trying to convert the Muslims to Christianity by going to war, nations now go to war to convert them to democracy.
Throughout history St. Francis has been a powerful force in ennobling poverty and self-sacrifice. Those are ideals which contemporary spiritual thinkers have worked to transform. In the new metaphysics, prosperity and spiritual growth need not be in conflict. But St. Francis saw that the poor were often loving and generous--rich with kindness.
St. Francis preached to the birds and exhorted them to praise God. This notion of interspecies communication has always been an engaging idea for me. I sometimes talk to animals in my garden -- or for that matter -- wherever I meet them. My exhortations are more along the lines of "how's it going?" and "how about this weather?" -- not sermons, because I don't feel I have so much to teach as I have to learn.
Whenever I feel stressed by the drama of my own life’s plot, animals remind me how easily beings can live without fretting over future events.
Talking to animals -- though perhaps not rational -- is one of the things that consistently brings me joy, no matter what mood I'm in.
Above Painting: St. Francis of Assisi, oil on canvas, 1597, by Lodovico Cardi, known as Cigoli