People from all walks of life and from many religious traditions honor the holy man whose feast day is today, October 4: Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, known to us as St. Francis- a poor man with a wealth of wisdom and practical spirituality from the town of Assisi, Italy.
To relegate his memory to mere garden statues or quaint hagiography does not do justice to this man and his legacy. Born into a wealthy family, he experienced a profound conversion after serving in the army and recovering from an illness. Becoming an ardent follower of Christ, the charismatic young man embraced a life of profound simplicity, unitive prayer and exemplary love of the poor. His 500-year-old spirituality bequeaths us a contemporary reverence for creation, particularly our climate and natural resources.
Perhaps St. Francis' greatest legacy--and one which is needed right now in our country and throughout the world--is his commitment to peace. One could write volumes on each of the lines of the Peace Prayer (see below) which is attributed to the saint. However, due to the enormous challenges and realities of this year, the line which speaks to me is "Where there is darkness, light."
Covid-19 came to us in the winter darkness of this year (for those who live in the northern hemisphere). It brought with it many things: uncertainty, hoarding, fear, blame, toxic racism with impassioned protests and violence, along with massive financial stress. The virus also carried with it a death warrant for too many as well as the suffering and mourning for those who witnessed the same.
And yet through all of this, and because of all of this was born--and continues to grow--a sense of responsibility, compassion, cooperation, inventiveness, spontaneity and social outreach the likes of which I cannot remember in my lifetime.
Alice and I may be called out of touch or Pollyannas, but one thing (among many) that we know and believe and try to live is that how you see is what you see- meaning that our attitude toward the world is greatly determined by the world that we have created within. We choose, in the craziness and unsteadiness of this time, to bring light as we can, how we can, when we can.
We do not claim to do this perfectly or always. With the tumult of national politics and dis-ease of international unrest, there are times we have to coach each other back into the place and space where we drink of the truth of the goodness of life.
For that reason, we subscribe to the proverb that “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
Indeed, these are the moments that call for light. There's enough roller-coastering of emotions in "normal times". Disrupted lives, worry, loneliness, disorganization and just not-knowing can take its toll. But where there is darkness, we can bring light. Perhaps just to pause and think differently about a situation. Perchance it's re-prioritizing and really making someone or something matter.
Maybe your comfort zone is making you uncomfortable? Good. Take a breath and find out if you have "stinking thinking" and, if you do, discover--however you can--that unlimited source of light within that was planted by someone other than you.
Take a breath and make the time to change up the daily rituals that govern your life. Or affirm the ones you know are working for you. Either way, throw yourself into them as if your health and life were at stake... they are. And if you've been wondering where to draw inspiration, read or pray the following:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis is more than someone to admire; he is a person to imitate. I read somewhere that in the presence of a man or woman in whom all hostility has died, others cannot be hostile. In the presence of a woman or man in whom fear is no more, no one can be afraid. This is the power released in divine serenity, as we can see in the life of San Francisco. Because all hostility had died in his heart, he was a profound force for peace.
Perhaps this Day of St. Francis inspires you to "do more." Below are some organizations whose vision and mission might make a poor man from Italy molto felice.
🌎Grounded in the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, Pax Christi USA (PCUSA) is a membership organization that rejects war, preparation for war, every form of violence and domination, and personal and systemic racism. As PCUSA, a section of Pax Christi International, we are a Catholic peace and justice movement that seeks to model the Peace of Christ in our witness to the mandate of the nonviolence of the Cross.
🌎Founded by author Bill McKibben, 350 is probably the most famous climate change-focused organization. 350’s decentralized groups use online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions to oppose new coal, oil, and gas projects; take money out of the companies that are heating up the planet; and build 100 percent clean energy solutions that work for all. 350’s network extends to 188 countries. Use 350.org’s interactive map to find campaigns, projects, and local groups where you can help.
🌎Nowhere is the danger of misunderstanding and ignoring solid science more evident than the way the U.S. has responded to climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists was founded at MIT to share information, seek the truth, and enable scientific findings to guide public policy and actions.
🌎UCS has helped improve fuel efficiency standards, advocated for renewable energy, protected rainforests, and fought tirelessly against anti-science government policies. As a long-time watchdog of the nuclear industry, UCS recently surprised environmentalists when it changed its guidance about nuclear power’s role in lowering carbon emissions. After many years opposing increased reliance on nuclear power, UCS now suggests nuclear is a reasonable part of the climate solution.
🌎The Clean Air Task Force is a US-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that has been working to reduce air pollution since its founding in 1996. It led a successful campaign to reduce the pollution caused by coal-fired power plants in the US, helped limit the US power sector’s CO2 emissions, and helped establish regulations of diesel, shipping, and methane emissions.
Why you should consider donating: In addition to its seriously impressive record of success and the high quality of its research, the Clean Air Task Force does well on the neglectedness criterion: It often concentrates on targeting emissions sources that are neglected by other environmental organizations, and on scaling up deployment of technologies that are crucial for decarbonization yet neglected by NGOs and governments. For example, since 2009 it’s been working on a campaign for tax incentives for carbon capture and storage.
🌎The Information Technology and Innovative Foundation, a highly regarded US think tank, runs the Clean Energy Innovation program. That program looks into smart clean energy research and development and the effectiveness of increasing spending in that space, then advises policymakers on the best course of action.
Why you should consider donating: Let’s Fund, which is guided by “the principles of Effective Altruism” in its recommendations, argues it’s the best place to donate for climate change.
🌎Rainforest Foundation US works to protect the rainforests of Central and South America by partnering directly with folks on the front lines: indigenous people in Brazil, Peru, Panama, and Guyana, who are deeply motivated to protect their lands. The foundation supplies them with legal support as well as technological equipment and training so they can use smartphones, drones, and satellites to monitor illegal loggers and miners, and take action to stop them.
Why you should consider donating: Rainforest Foundation US has shown an unusual commitment to rigorous evaluation of its impact by inviting Columbia University researchers to conduct a randomized controlled trial in Loreto, Peru. Starting in early 2018, researchers collected survey data and satellite imagery from 36 communities partnered with the foundation and 40 control communities. The preliminary results are promising.
🌎The Climate Emergency Fund is different from the groups listed above. It was founded recently — July 2019 — with the goal of quickly getting money to groups engaged in climate protest. It has already raised and disbursed several hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to groups it has vetted. The grantees range from the well-established 350.org to the fledgling Extinction Rebellion, an activist movement that uses nonviolent civil disobedience — like filling the streets and blocking intersections — to demand governments do more to stave off mass extinction.
Why you should consider donating: Because it’s relatively new, the Climate Emergency Fund has less of an evidence base than the organizations listed above, so we’ll have to monitor its impact and cost-effectiveness. But it offers something important: immediacy.