My efforts to write a daily blog during the season of Creation Time fell apart around Day 13. Other demands on my time took over. But I’ve rallied myself for the final day of this season, which is the feast of Saint Francis, patron saint of the natural world including animals, and also international World Animal Day, supported in the UK by the animal charity Naturewatch Foundation. It also happens to be the first day this year of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, or Booths, which is the equivalent of a harvest festival.
Later this morning at my local church primary school I’ll be telling the story of Saint Francis and the wolf of Gubbio. and we’ll be singing “Make me a channel of your peace” based on words attributed to Francis. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio is a great story. Yes it’s mythological, but that doesn’t stop it containing some very topical messages for today.
There are different possible messages of course depending on how you tell it! I’ll be avoiding some of the less helpful versions of the story I’ve found online. Some use the story to strike the fear of God into hapless listeners – obey God or else the wolf will gobble you up. This subverts the life and teaching of Francis which was to release people from fear and guilt. Others attempt a more rationalist use of the story, as theodicy – the theological attempt to justify the ways of God to humanity. In its more hard-core versions these tellings of the story explain the existence of violence, whilst not conforming to God’s will for the world, as nonetheless something God had to impose on the world to keep people in line. This is the kind of argument that justifies the application of pain, as in corporal punishment, as chastisement in discipline. Or justifies pushing benefit claimants to near-starvation to force them to try harder to avoid relying on the public purse. And then there are those versions which simply eviscerate any subtleties and mystery by portraying it as a simple story of how kind Francis was to animals and what a rapport he had with them.
What will I make of the story? It will be about the possibility of forgiveness and of making peace.