Creation through Franciscan eyes

By  Sr. Claire Monique Lerman, FMM, Catholic Register Special
  • September 5, 2008

{mosimage}Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth by Ilia Delio, O.S.F, Keith Douglas Warner, O.F.M., and Pamela Wood (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 226 pages, softcover, $18.95).

This book made me nervous, but also had me excited. My Franciscan community has studied and reflected on cosmic theology and eco-spirituality this past year in preparation for our general chapter this month. Through it all, there was for me a need to maintain a sound doctrinal understanding of our faith as Roman Catholic religious.

Gnostic and pantheist ways of thinking lack precision. Cosmic theology refuses to give God any specificity and eco-spirituality, in its inclusiveness of all, has an article of belief in aliens. An overly zealous inclusiveness of all ways of naming God could cause us to lose our sense of ourselves grounded in a belief in the incarnation of Jesus Christ (not just anyone) and in a defined triune God. Cosmic theology and eco-spirituality may open wonderful new avenues of seeing and understanding our world, but I was certain they also needed to be placed in a proper context.

Then came Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth. God has always had the most marvellous way of entering my life to quietly sit with me as explanations and answers to my fears and doubts are given. This was the excitement in being asked to read this book. The book did not disappoint. It is a solid and in-depth discovery of ecological awareness placed in the context of the faith I had chosen to live as a Franciscan Missionary of Mary.

{sa 0867168382}Like the wise sages of long ago, Care for Creation took me by the hand to present a spirituality whose richness I had taken for granted and somewhat set aside. Through four distinctive sections, it unravelled for me how I am to understand my relationship to creation based on a clear understanding of the incarnation and the Trinity. As with all Franciscan thought, it was a journey of grasping relationships.

It started with a comprehension of the “relationship between the Earth as God’s creation and Jesus as the incarnation of God.” It then looked at the “implications of Francis’ Canticle of Creation for our time.” Thirdly, it “examined the role of contemplative prayer in creation in light of global climate change.” Finally, in the midst of our ever changing world, we were reminded of conversion in the Franciscan understanding as “an occasion for joy, an opportunity to respond to God’s activity in the world with the same generosity.”

This approach opened the door to insight into my questions and concerns. But is this book for everyone?

From the opening dedication, “For our Franciscan sisters and brothers — those who have gone before us, those who are with us and those who will follow,” this book presumes a basic understanding of Franciscan theology and its associated terms. In its succinct overviews of Francis’ life and legacy, it assumes the reader has met the Franciscan minds that shape our present spirituality. Such assumptions may make this book quite dense reading for anyone lacking a basic understanding of Franciscan spirituality.

The scientific reader may also find its picture of natural occurrences painted in very broad strokes. There are many factors changing our environment, not least of which is our treatment of the planet. In this book, however, major factors are completely overlooked — such as changing solar activity. For a full understanding of our planet’s state and future, this may prove a problematic oversight.

I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of Franciscan spirituality, particularly our understanding of the incarnation and the Trinity as presented by Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus. This is a fine guide for many reflective discussions and prayers on our relationship to creation within the context of this specific way of grasping faith. It even offers step-by-step prayer exercises and meditations.

For those who have chosen to answer God’s call as Franciscans, this compact, yet enriching compilation reminds us of essentials as we set forth towards the planet and faith we wish to nurture.

I was awakened to some of the treasures of my spirituality by Care for Creation. I pondered why Francis and his legacy are still relevant today. Francis offered us a way of seeing the world around us. As exemplified in his Canticle of Creation, all things change depending on how one views them. I then remembered something some wonderful young women who were struggling out of the world of prostitution had taught me during my apostolic training as a novice. I learned that once you can put a name and a face on a reality it is no longer possible to write it off.

Is this not the first step to caring for our Earth? Yes, somehow the novice, despite herself, learned to adhere to the lesson.

(Lerman, of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, lives in Toronto.)

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