Ann Rennie, Companion in Mission from Australia, shares a reflection and a poem that she has written for her parish newsletter to mark the Season of Creation. Ann teaches English and Religious Education at Genazzano FCJ College
For the Earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.
1 Corinthians 10:26
Over the past month we have been steeped in the Season of Creation which will end on the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment. Saint Francis, lover of the poor and all creatures great and small, desired that humans live in harmony with all living things. He saw mankind’s story as a paradisiacal kinship; an interdependence with other species.
One of the famous stories told about Saint Francis is his preaching to the birds.
“My sweet little sisters, birds of the sky,” Francis said, “you are bound to heaven, to God, your Creator. In every beat of your wings and every note of your songs, praise him. He has given you the greatest of gifts, the freedom of the air. You neither sow, nor reap, yet God provides for you the most delicious food, rivers, and lakes to quench your thirst, mountains, and valleys for your home, tall trees to build your nests, and the most beautiful clothing: a change of feathers with every season. You and your kind were preserved in Noah’s Ark. Clearly, our Creator loves you dearly, since he gives you gifts so abundantly. So please beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and always sing praise to God.”
Recently, I spent a few days at my sister’s home in Eaglehawk. She lives right next to the small lake Tom Thumb. As an artist, it gives her delight and inspiration to see the moods of the day reflected in the lake and to see nature at play with its water fowl, swans, ducks, ibis, herons and purple swamphens with their marvellously iridescent upper bodies. Each morning I notice a fine gauze of mist hovering over the lake. Slowly, the curtain of night disappears and the sun starts to dimple through the trees ready to light the path for dogs walking their owners, strolling oldies and teenagers late for school.
The following day I am at Lake Neangar as children play in the Mulga Bill’s Bicycle playground. Dads watch kids on the slippery slide or having their first tremulous go at the flying fox. The scent of sausage sizzle seasons the air. Off-course seagulls caw and stalk families who have fish and chips. A multitude of water birds glide by serenely or forage around the shore.
I am immersed in sun-kissed contentment; at home in my own season of creation.
My grandmother would soak bread crusts for the birds who frequented her back garden, a small kindness in gratitude for their morning melodies. My husband has befriended the birds on the balcony who congregate faithfully late in the afternoon, even the rather large crow who stands proprietorially at the glass door. I am happy when I see rainbow lorikeets play hide and seek in branches or hear the liquid notes of the bellbird in the cool chartreuse canopy of the Dandenongs. At dusk, certain trees in Surrey Hills quiver with nesting and nestling-in for the night, a bustling evensong.
As we listen to the trill and warble, the cheeping and chittering, the kookaburra and its raucous roistering, let us be thankful for the joyful vocalese of our feathered friends. Or as Judith Wright writes in her eponymous poem about magpies:
For each is born with such a throat
As thanks his God with every note.
I imagine Saint Francis as he preached to the birds. Perhaps he was practising. Perhaps he had such irrepressible words to say that he could not hold them in any longer; a torrent of praise for all creation unleashed unexpectedly to his avian audience. Perhaps he experienced that moment of ecstatic kinship with God’s winged creatures of the skies.
The birds listened, a lesson for us, when we hear our own preachers!
I have a great fondness for sparrows. They are mentioned a couple of times in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels. To me, they are cheerful little aviators, busy with the world, unpretentious, humble, alert, full of solidarity and vim as they chirp guilelessly and gladly.
The following poem is my effort to give the suburban sparrow a little of its due.
I love the tiny sparrow in its circadian circus flight
Its dips and dives and derring-do from morning, noon ‘till night
As it stops to briefly gargle and gurgle its good news
On speckled wing and downy prayer to exchange its worldly views.
For a sparrow is a bird that putters in the leaves
And sometime nests suburban-like in the dark of eaves
And keeps a happy, beady eye on the goings-on of folks
Chortling with its feathered friends o’er the lamest human jokes.
A sparrow is no trouble as it flits so fancy free
And hurries home with restless zip to a lemon-scented tree
To chatter loquaciously, up talking with the lark
Non-stop chirpy commentary until after it is dark.
God loves the little sparrow in its habit, brown and drear
Congregating faithfully with never-ending cheer
Not worried that the other birds may catch the artist’s eye
Happy in its ordinariness, tickling low the sky.
With song aburst with joy at adventures way ahead
A serenade for living, a requiem for the dead
God sees this little friendly bird and blesses it in flight
The job complete; it has put my wilting heart to right.
Photo credit: Vladimir Melnik in Adobe Stock