Animal Stories

Early Franciscan literature is sprinkled with fanciful tales involving Francis and a host of animals, all of whom listened to him and obeyed him. Thomas a Kempis said something which might explain why Francis felt such harmony with animals: “If your heart is straight with God, then every creature will appear to you as a mirror of life and a sacred scripture. No creature is so small and insignificant as not to express and demonstrate the goodness of God.”

The importance of all the animal stories from the life of St. Francis is that they tell us something about the saint. The animals bear witness not to a man who at certain times felt a need to seek refuge in a world of fantasy but to a mystic who experienced the real world in a way that we can hardly imagine. When we hear the birds chirping and singing, we hear only sounds. Francis heard words. He experienced in their song the sweetness of God’s presence.

Francis did not want us to emulate him by simply loving crickets and rabbits. He wanted us to love the cross and Christ. His love of nature flowed from his far greater love of God. The intimacy St. Francis felt between God and creation made his spirit dance to the song of the birds. Anthony de Mello, in his book The Song of the Bird describes the way American Indian mystics expressed the intimacy they felt between God and creation:

God is the Dancer
God’s Creation is the Dance.
The Dance
is different
from the Dancer…
and yet it has no existence
apart from the Dancer…
The moment the Dancer stops,
the Dance ceases to exist.


8 Responses to “Animal Stories”

  1. 1 James Sedwick February 11, 2015 at 6:15 am

    This happened recently: we live on the edge of a woods, and many deer find there way into our yard to eat, which includes our plants. We usually chase them away. The pressure to find food is particularly high when there is much snow. Over a couple of weeks a doe, small for an adult or perhaps it was a young adult, slept next to our front door. It would watch us come and go, and it would go out in the evening to find food, only to return to be there by the door in the morning. At first, when getting close to it, the deer would walk away. As the days went on, the deer remained in place as we approached. We realized the deer was ill. This past Sunday, my wife went out to sit next to it, out in the cold, over an hour or two; she noticed that the deer was dying, and she remained near it. The deer died, and my wife grieved. She set out incense. We hadn’t chased the deer away. I dragged the deer into the woods. My wife asked me if I were sad as I moved the deer; I replied that I was honored. We see this as a spiritual lesson and practice.

    • 2 Jose Luis February 18, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      James, thanks for sharing. Merton said it is a special gift and a blessing when a deer appears in our lives, especially if he/she gazes at us. Thanks for sharing.

  2. 3 aliceny February 11, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Thank you for that lovely insight into St. Francis. It gives me an additional reason to love him and to turn to him in prayer.

    It was nice to see de Mello’s appropriate quote from ‘Song of the Bird’ used here He is one of my favorite Jesuit authors.

  3. 4 squeaky kneeler February 11, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    i remember reading about an orchestra that was rehearsing for a big performance. And all of a sudden, right in the middle of a symphony, the piccolo player was struck, overwhelmed by her littleness – and stopped playing. Immediately, the Conductor yelled for silence, and he headed to the piccolo. “Why did you stop?” he asked, with a great tenderness.She answered, “I’m really nothing here. No one can hear me. I might as well be quiet.” “I HEARD YOU, and you were perfect,” cried the Maestro. “The symphony cannot possibly go on without you. As long as you are doing your part, you are as important as any other. No one is superior to you.”
    St. Francis obviously understood better than anyone that this is the story of all Creation. Being One with the Great Maestro, he was one also with every member of the Great Orchestra of Creation. For Francis the littlest sparrow, the poorest beggar, the most leprosy-consumed old man were all just as important as any king or emperor. Those early friars who walked by his side told us how this reverence extended to the tiniest ant. Francis, they wrote, would often stop in the road to lift and carry the smallest bug across, lest “brother bug” be trampled upon. No one was superior to another! AWESOME!

  4. 6 aliceny February 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Exquisitely beautiful. Profound in its simplicity. Food for my soul. If only……if only it were this way, Squeaky Kneeler, we and our elected leadership would not make the decision for us re spending for guns or butter. And…we would be color and ethnically blind to the not always lovable differences among us.

  5. 7 squeaky kneeler February 11, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    we just have to do whatever we can each day to dream – and LIVE the Dream of Francis. We have a wonderful man in Rome now who is working towards the same goal. When he speaks to Congress on Sept 24, i suspect he will PACK SOME PUNCH!

  6. 8 Jose Luis February 18, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    Gerry, as someone who loves to commune in and with nature and Her beings from the four cardinal directions, this piece really resonates with me. Again, thanks for sharing and you are such a talented human being and gifted person! Blessings and Peace particularly during Lent particularly with your discernment process.
    Paz y Bien,
    José Luis

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