Worshipping the Artist – Francis, Creation and the Tau/Tao

Just in time for St. Francis Day – Oct 4

Almost eight centuries after he was born, Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was named as Patron Saint of Ecology by Pope John Paul II in 1979. The message of the ragamuffin monk in his patched brown habit who talked to the animals, and embraced Lady Poverty has persisted through the centuries against all odds. Francis is respected, if not revered, across several world religions, and is even called a Celtic Saint on some lists – Italy’s first chance to be a Celtic country! What is it that’s so compelling about Il Poverello, the Little Poor One?tau

Well, for one thing he liked to praise the Artist, God, through the work of art, which is Creation. How cool is that! No wonder his ‘coolness’ or with-it-ness survived over eight centuries. Basically Francis felt that nature was transparent to the Divine, that nature is the first book of revelation, through which we see the beauty and goodness of the Creator. This strikes a chord with both a modern ecological desire to highlight the sacredness of nature, as well as fitting in with how many aboriginal people understand God and nature. The Creator is to be revered and all that the Creator has made is to be appreciated, respected and protected.

These links between Franciscan spirituality, ecology and Creation spirituality are not new, although they do merit our ongoing reflection. But here’s what struck me as new last year when I had the privilege of visiting Assisi. Not surprisingly such a popular saint draws in the crowds and the tourist dollars, so the gift shop at St. Francis Basilica was a busy place. Among the items for sale are simple string necklaces with T shaped crosses known as the Tau (see image at top of article). This Tau is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet, and was used as a Christian cross by some of the early desert fathers in Christianity; and also has some Old Testament or Hebrew Bible references as the mark on the foreheads of those to be spared in Ezekial 9:4, and also it can be an image of Moses with outstretched arms, parting the Red Sea. Francis favored this form of the cross and it is recognized as the Franciscan Cross among other things.

September 2013 in Assisi, I found myself marveling at the similarity between the word Tau and the word Tao, meaning The Way in Taoism. Jesus’ early followers were also known as followers of The Way. The main original Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching (c. 6th century BC) begins with a mysterious humility and caution to look beyond what seems big in the world. Here are some early verses that remind me of the Franciscan way: “The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.” (v.4) and “The way [Tao] is empty, yet use will not drain it.” (v.11) and “Highest good is water. Because water excels in benefiting the myriad creatures without contending with them and settles where none would like to be, it comes close to the way.” (v.20) (1963 Penguin translation by D.C. Lau). Water is an important symbol in Taoism because it flows to the lowest places, seemingly without force – action-less action which Taoists call Wu Wei, and yet water can be extremely powerful like hydro-electric power, and destructive as well, like tsunamis. Soft, pliable Sister Water, as Francis called it (Canticle to Brother Sun), can cut through hard rock leaving behind straight crevices as if an incredibly powerful cosmic knife had come through, but no, it was just water! In places with powerful waterfalls, tourists are constantly reminded to keep a safe distance, and yet people regularly get too close and are swept away.

This is only a small sampling of the similarities I’ve found between Franciscan spirituality and Taoist philosophy. Certainly both Francis and Taoism counseled a simple life, close to nature, and as unfettered as possible by material concerns – a life of ‘live and let live’. The Tau and the Tao have much in common – the path of Francis was in many ways the epitome of Wu Wei – so much to be explored in this realm. Meanwhile we can rejoice in yet another peaceful link amongst world religions, so badly needed in our times, given the horrendously volatile and seemingly endless, overtly religious conflicts in the Middle East.

“Happy those who endure in peace” wrote Francis in his Canticle … may it be so in our times and in our children’s children’s time. For the Creator so loves the world that all God’s creatures are implored to treat each other with dignity, respect and love. May all the earth have comfort and peace; may evil fail and good prevail, Amen.

Rev. Dr. Adela D. Torchia
Parish of St David and St Paul 6310 Sycamore Street Powell River, British Columbia
This is the second of two articles connecting with the Season of Creation 2014

Celebrate the Season of Creation

Greetings friends as we continue through Pentecost Season together. In both hemispheres, the seasons will shortly change and we are freshly reminded of God’s glorious handiwork in our various environments. For God’s beautiful creation, and for our place within creation, let us be thankful together.

One way to express our thanks is through our worship, no less so through the Season of Creation. There are many creation-themed resources now published online for the season of creation. A resolution from the last Anglican Consultative Council invited all provinces in the communion to consider establishing a season of creation within their liturgical calendars. To support this initiative many provinces, denominations and individual authors have created some wonderful rites for our use.

Yes, in many Anglican provinces, permission is required from a local bishop before proceeding so proceed with respectful caution. That said, where flexibility is permitted, even encouraged, many of these rites contain resources of music, prayer, homilies, contextual introduction, audio-video presentations and Eucharistic rites for your consideration.

1) The Church of the Province of Southern Africa has published its third assembly of rites, Season of Creation 3. Goto http://www.greenanglicans.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Season-of-Creation-Three.pdf

Organized thematically it includes material relating to:

• Climate change
• Eco-justice
• Water
• Creation and Redemption
• Biodiversity
• St Francis Day

Each section has Sermon notes, Collect for the day and liturgical materials.

General Seasonal liturgical materials include:

• Eucharistic prayers
• Final blessings
• Benedicite Africana (Song of Creation)
• Penitence
• Prayers for the land
• The taking of the bread and wine
• Creeds
• Blessings
• Peace sentences
• Candlelighting
• Songs

2) An ecumenical website Let All Creation Praise which is based in N. America with connections internationally hosts a huge variety of resources from Lutheran, Episcopal/Anglican, United Church and other denominational sources.

The 2014 four-week cycle SPIRIT SERIES looks intriguing and useful.

http://www.letallcreationpraise.org/united-states-ecumenical/spirit-series-a

Through a four-week cycle congregations experience Forest, Land, Wilderness and River Sundays. There are two liturgies for each week with other resources sprinkled throughout the many webpages.

3) The World Council of Churches has gathered a number of resources and links in many languages at http://www.oikoumene.org/en/what-we-do/climate-change/time-for-creation

Note in particular sermon notes from Churches Together In Britain and Ireland and Worship resources for the four Sundays produced by Eco Congregation Scotland on behalf of the Church of Scotland.

4) Finally, Christian Concern for One World has assembled a staggering number of resources, some current, some from previous years. It’s all good stuff and deserves a careful examination. The link document is organized thus: (some material is duplicated above)
• Time for Creation: Worship Resources
• For the Love of …
• Oceans of Justice Campaign
• Hope for the Future
• Fossil Fuels: Divestment and Engagement
• Hunger for Justice
• Fast and Pray for the Climate

The link document can be accessed at http://www.ccow.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/CCOW-Guide-to-Time-for-Creation-2014.pdf

As mentioned above, there is no shortage of material for the creative worship planner as we seek to share our enthusiasm for God’s creation.

Grace and compassion to all, Ken Gray+

HOW WILL YOU CELEBRATE THE SEASON OF CREATION THIS YEAR?

The Season of Creation is an optional season for the church year. For the most part, the seasons of the church year follow the life of Jesus: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. The remainder of the church year encompasses Pentecost Season, which celebrates life in the Holy Spirit. Of course, there are many special days and occasional services throughout the calendar of the church year, such as Christ the King Sunday and Rogation Day. God is celebrated throughout the entire church year. And God the creator, Christ the redeemer of creation, and the Holy Spirit as sustainer of life are integral to worship throughout the church year. We hope that caring for creation is a vital dimension of every worship service.

Goto http://seasonofcreation.com/  for a wonderful array of information and resources for use in a variety of settings.