Rev. Bruce G. Epperly, PhD
Wednesday, October 4 marks the Feast of St. Francis, the patron saint of the environmental movement. During my time as a congregational pastor, I held a Blessing of the Animals on the Sunday afternoon nearest to Francis’ feast day. People brought dogs of all breeds and sizes, cats in pet carriers, and photos of their companion animals to be blessed.
When I think of Francis, I am reminded of his sense of kinship with the non-human world. He saw holiness in fish and rabbits, sparks of fire and singing swallows. He even befriended a wolf who had been terrorizing the citizens of the village of Gubbio. Francis asserted that we are not alone in the world. We are surrounded by communities of non-human companions each in their own way praising God. “All nature sings and around us rings the music of the spheres.”
Francis reminds us to love the non-human world and bathe ourselves in the beauty of nature. A retired friend of mine drives a half hour to the beach twice a week to take photographs. “Taking photographs is a joy. But the greatest joy is walking the beach and staring out at the Nantucket Sound. I am all ears and eyes, and the breeze calms my soul.” Another retired friend walks a tow path along the Potomac every Saturday morning, awestruck by the power of the Potomac flowing below.
Francis reminds us of the importance of companion animals in our lives. My ninety-five-pound Golden Doodle “Tucker” has been Kate’s and my companion for nearly seven years. We initially got him to help our oldest grandchild – six at the time – to overcome his fear of dogs, and we succeeded and now Tucker is a source of calm companionship for him. Tucker reminds me that the simplest tasks can bring joy to the world. Jewish mysticism says that if you save one soul, it’s as if you are saving the world. I amend this to say if you bring joy to one moment, you save the world. The joy of a wagging tail, when I announce its time for a treat or a walk or visit to the dog park reveals what humans often hide – simple gratitude for companionship, consideration, and being noticed.
These days, of course, Francis reminds us that the future of the earth is in jeopardy. Legend has it that Francis’ call to ministry came as he was praying at the Chapel of San Damiano, a fifteen-minute walk down the hill from Assisi. Deep in prayer as he gazed at the cross, asking for guidance for his life, Francis heard the words, “Repair my church.” Initially, Francis thought Christ meant repairing the chapel. Later he realized that Christ called him to reform the church spiritually, to bring new life to a stagnating institution.
Today, perhaps, these words are spoken to you. I know that they are spoken to me. In retirement, you may be called to “repair the world.” To do your part in healing the earth. Prognosticators suggest that within a few years we may reach the point of no return in terms of climate change. The writing on the wall is obvious and challenges us to make significant personal and political changes.
Part of our role as elder adults is to care for generations and persons we will never meet. Our generativity is aimed at leaving a positive mark beyond our lifetime. Environmental collapse is not inevitable. But retirees like us must find ways to make a difference and give hope to future generations.
At the end of the day, it is about love. Love that challenges us to care for future generations, even if we don’t have grandchildren of our own. Love that urges us to confront environmental injustice and climate denial in our role as citizens. Love that transforms our gratitude and delight in beauty to healing the earth.
We have much for which to be grateful. The beauty of the earth. Our companion animals. And the opportunity to be “good ancestors,” while we are still living, repairing the earth as God’s companions.