For All The Saints – Francis of Assisi

What does a 13th century mendicant preacher with a flair for naked preaching and home repairs have to do with the seemily viral practice of early-October pet belssings? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the unpopular thing. “Very Little.”

As many of you may have begun to expect from reading over two months of this blog, I’m not really much of a literalist. Beyond the facts that Jesus lived, died and rose again, St. Paul wrote most (but not all) of the letters attributed to him and the Church has been a generally benign force for bringing about the Kingdom of God throughout its history, I’m usually pretty willing to understand much of what we read as tradition through a figurative lens. Metaphor is a powerful tool for helping people to learn. Metaphors are a gift. They are beautiful parcels filled with meaning. They are the clay out of which understanding is fashioned.

See what I did there?

Back to St. Francis.

I don’t know whether or not to believe the factuality of all the stories that are told about St. Francis and his love of animals, whether he preached to birds or tamed wolves or would have even understood the need for us to adorn collars with little icons bearing his image. What I think is the more powerful part of these stories is the way they can serve as metaphors for the kind of work that I think St. Francis really did.  For which of us has not ever found ourselves faced down by a predator and felt the call to speak stern but gentle words. And, trust me, every congregation has its fair share of pick-a-little-talk-a-little type folks that need to be offered a more meaningful set of conversation topics. One doesn’t need to literally preach to the hens to do that.

No, I think the stories of St. Francis and the animals have much more to do with the Fables of Aesop than they do with the musigs of Steve Irwin (The Crocadile Hunter). They are metaphors that can be just as meaningful for those that don’t have pets as they are for those that do.

OK. Now before you go and tell the ASPCA or my bishop on me. I’ll say this about the role of pets and other animals in our lives. I have pets. I love my pets. Not only do they provide joy and companionship in my life, but they also do a pretty good job of highlighting some aspects of a life lived with God that otherwise might be hidden from me.  Maybe they are little metaphors themselves.

See what I did there?

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