We have set out bird feeders this summer in the branches of our growing front yard trees. As I write this a little song bird is about five feet away singing a prairie song. In my rush to get another project done, I can forget about the beautiful little gifts that meet me through the day, like little birds, the stories of a small child, or the garden at sunset. However, little birds do not often catch out attention for long and in our enthusiasm for bigger and better things, we often miss the gifts we have right before us.
St Francis of Assisi is one of the most well known saints in Christian history. His story is almost legendary. The son of a wealthy merchant, Francis lived a life of vapid pleasure. Then, through a series of hardships and strange encounters with God, Francis sensed a call to live a different way, a more austere, simple, and generous way. He gave away his wealth and began living outside, in poverty, and for the benefit of others. Today our popular pictures of this saint have him standing among animals, speaking with birds, and wearing a simple cloak made of patches. His life inspired millions and today the Franciscans and the spiritual legacy of their mission extends throughout the world.
Pax et Bonum, peace and all good, is a phrase that Francis used in letters and sermons. It was his mission, in a sense, to establish peace where there was division, and find good even in the smallest creatures, in the poorest person, and in the most forgotten places. For him birds, as well as people, represented the possibility of peace and all goodness. His devotion to finding peace and goodness in everything around him allowed him to walk with a unique kind of patience and attentiveness. It seems that the Franciscan Way might be something we need again today in a world beset by too many challenges to count.
Henri Nouwen, a beloved writer, sought a similar kind of peace and goodness in his life. However he found that the peace and goodness he was looking for could not be found in the rush of life, but by making time to enter into his world gently and with an eye for the small and sublime. He writes, “More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
St. Francis and Henri Nouwen offer us what the birds have been saying all along: Pax et Bonum; Peace and All Good. They believed that they, like birds, they have been given what they need to bring that peace and goodness to their worlds. They have love, and they are provided for by God. As God cares for the birds, so God cares for us always. It is in that sense of safety and security they can go out with courage and joy, singing all along.
So may you experience peace and all goodness this week as you step into this world, comforted with the knowledge that you are provided for, and never alone. Pax et Bonum.