An article from the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development on St. Francis of Assisi.

Here is the link:

Heres the full text:

On the Spirituality of Sustainability

By Eitan Press

In this post we are going to offer what will be the first of three teachings on the ‘spirituality of sustainability’ from the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths. Besides the external changes we need to make in order to live more sustainably, what are the changes that needs to happen on the inside? The spirituality of sustainability seeks to answers to this question.

Our first post in this series is based on the writings of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis (1181/1182 – October 3, 1226 ) is known for his love of all of Gods creatures, it is said that besides preaching to people, he also preached to animals. His statue often appears in many gardens with birds resting on his shoulder. His love of peace inspired St. Francis to travel to Egypt and seek rapprochement with the Muslim world and after his death, it was the Franciscan order that was allowed to stay during Muslim control of Palestine after the fall of the Crusader kingdom. The Franciscans were known as the Christian “Custodians of the Holy Land”. St. Francis wrote a canticle or song called ‘In Praise of the Creatures’ that holds an important key to sustainable thinking. Here a passage from the canticle where he sings about nature:

“Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.

No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,

especially through my lord Brother Sun,

who brings the day; and you give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!

Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;

in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,

and clouds and storms, and all the weather,

through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;

she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,

through whom you brighten the night.

He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,

who feeds us and rules us,

and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;

through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,

for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.”

In this canticle St. Francis is talking to God, praising God through expressing his gratitude for the natural world God created. Through his words one can see that St. Francis was reverential and respectful of nature, referring to the natural world as his family. The sun is his ‘brother’, the moon is his ‘sister’. Nature was a part of St. Francis and he a part of it. This attitude is a crucial ingredient in in understanding the spirituality of sustainability.

Often, humankind relates to the natural world as if humanity is separate from and ‘other’ than it. Nature is seen in terms of its utilitarian purposes, as a resource to be consumed. This map of our connection to nature is based on a false dichotomy. The danger of looking at the environment simply as a resource, is that it allows for a much more callous attitude towards it, one in which if we are destructive and wasteful, it is not affecting us, just that object ‘over there’. If we think and act towards nature with this perspective we are undermining our own survival, for we are part of the ecosystem we are destroying. The most simple example is trees.

We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Trees absorb in or ‘inhale’ carbon dioxide and then retain the carbon in their trunks (which reduces greenhouse gases) and release or ‘exhale’ oxygen. Trees are known as the “lungs of the world.” According to National Geographic forests now cover 30% of the worlds surface, but every year the earth is losing area equivalent to the size of Panama to deforestation. If things continue as they are we could lose much of the worlds forests in less than 100 years. This is not good for the trees, the animals, insects and countless other forms of life that make up these ecosystems including us, the human race. We all need to breathe.

This brings us back to St. Francis and the spirituality of sustainability. “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.” The solution is not just change on the outside through more sustainable practices, but also change on the inside in terms of how we see ourselves in relationship to nature, we have to change our map. St. Francis saw himself, as interconnected to nature, rather than divorced from it, he was of nature, and nature was of him. Planet earth was not an object but his ‘Mother’. Seeing ourselves and nature as one family which is an interdependent whole, is important medicine we need to live more lovingly, responsibly, and sustainably towards the gifts the Infinite has given us.


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