Recognizing and Praising God in All Things

While my Jesuit friends will likely wish to claim the concept “find God in all things” as the insight of Ignatius Loyola (his community, the Society of Jesus, certainly popularized the slogan), perhaps the greatest exemplar of that slogan-in-practice was none other than St. Francis of Assisi, who, of course, was one of Ignatius’s inspirations. From the most famous writing of Francis of Assisi — The Canticle of the Creatures — to his lived example presented by his earliest biographers, Francis’s way of viewing the world was centered on seeing the world as it really was. This meant that he could see all of creation as something more than the empirical collection of material things and instead recognize the presence of the God who lovingly brought all of creation into being. St. Bonaventure describes this dimension of God’s presence in the world by calling all of creation a vestige of God — literally, all of creation bears the “footprint” or signature of the Creator to whom all of creation points.

There is a great little passage in Bonaventure’s Legenda Maior (“The Major Legend of Saint Francis”) in which Francis is remembered for his recognition of the songs of a flock of birds being the form of praise these lowly creatures offered to God. So moved by the experience of recognizing these little animals’ praise of the Lord, Francis calls his brothers to praise God in prayer immediately.

Another time when he was walking with a brother through the marshes of Venice, he came upon a large flock of birds singing among the reeds. When he saw them, he said to his companion: “Our Sister Birds are praising their Creator; so we should go in among them and chant the Lord’s praises and the canonical hours.” When they had entered among them, the birds did not move from the place; and on account of the voice the birds were making, they could not hear each other saying the hours. The saint turned to the birds and said: “Sister Birds, stop singing until we have done our duty of praising God!”  At once they were silent and remained in silence as long as it took the brothers to say the hours at length and finish their praises. Then the holy man of God gave them permission to sing again.  When the man of God gave them permission, they immediately resumed singing in their usual way (Legenda Maior VIII:9)

Francis is so often depicted in the birdbath of many home gardens and people generally think this is some sort of generic allusion to the Saint’s “love of animals.” There is no doubt that Francis “loved animals,” but it wasn’t in an overly romanticized way. His love of animals — like his love of all creation, including stones and trees and worms — stemmed from his ability to recognize and praise God in all things.

He didn’t love birds as an end in themselves, but instead recognized the inherent dignity of God’s creation in even the birds’ ability to offer praise back to their Creator in the way most fitting for birds.

Francis also reminds human beings of the way we are created to offer praise back to our Creator in the way most fitting for us: by loving and forgiving. This is made abundantly clear in the closing verses of Francis’s Canticle of the Creatures, when he finally gets around to mentioning the proper way human beings praise their Lord.

May we follow more closely the example of Francis of Assisi (taking to heart what the Jesuit tradition has so aptly adopted) and recognize and praise God in all things. Where will you see God where you haven’t before?

5 Responses to “Recognizing and Praising God in All Things”

  1. Br. Dan — very inspirational post. To bring yet another religious order into the conversation, your words reminded me of Brother Lawrence, the Carmelite monk. He was an unfulfilled soldier when he happened to gaze on a bare tree in winter; the thought of its coming transformation in the spring prompted a lifelong spiritual awakening in him. His Practice of the Presence of God is one of my favorite books. By the way, just ordered your book as well and thoroughly enjoying it!

  2. Br. Dan — very inspirational post. To bring yet another religious order into the conversation, your words reminded me of Brother Lawrence, the Carmelite monk. He was an unfulfilled soldier when he happened to gaze on a bare tree in winter; the thought of its coming transformation in the spring prompted a lifelong spiritual awakening in him. His Practice of the Presence of God is one of my favorite books. By the way, just ordered your book as well and thoroughly enjoying it!

  3. And let’s not forget St. Benedict who wrote in his Rule: “That in ALL THINGS God may be glorified–Ut in omnia Deus glorificetur,” and of whom Gregory the Great told the story that he saw ALL THINGS concentrated in a ball of light…

  4. Julianne Says:

    This made me think of the quote my spiritual director gave to me on Thursday:

    Detachment from these things does not mean setting up a contradiction between “things” and “God”, as if God were another “thing” and as if his creatures were his rivals. We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God, but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God. This is an entirely new perspective, which many sincerely moral and ascetic minds fail utterly to see. There is no evil in anything created by God, nor can anything of his become an obstacle to union with him. The obstacle is in our “self”, that is to say in the tenacious need to maintain our separate, external, egotistical will. It is when we refer all things to this outward and false self that we alienate ourselves from reality and from God. It is then the false self that is our god, and we love everything for the sake of this self. We use all things, so to speak, for the worship of this idol, which is our imaginary self. In so doing we pervert and corrupt things, or rather we turn our relationship to them into a corrupt and sinful relationship. We do not thereby make them evil, but we use them to increase our attachment to our illusory self…

    In trying to believe in their ego as something “holy” these fanatics look upon everything else as unholy…

    The only joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into the union with the Life who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls.
    by Fr Thomas Merton.

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