In Search of the Ideal Extra: Preaching to Birds

The next subject I’m planning to write about involves the ideal of a perfect creation. Why can’t we talk to animals and have them understand us? Why can’t we understand them? When will wild animals ever trust humans? Anyway… when I think of the subject, my memory is tuned to a story I read this spring about beloved St. Francis of Assisi and his special relationship with animals and birds.

Saint_Francis_statue_in_gardenIf you ever see a garden statue of a man looking a bit like Friar Tuck while holding a bird in his hand, sometimes with a rabbit at his feet and another bird on his shoulder, that would be St. Francis. His statues always have him holding a bird. His stories embody the ideal of mankind relating to Creation in a Genesis 2 kinda way. Anyways, in advance of Part 4 of my series on the ideal, feel free to brush up on this cool story of Francis preaching to birds, taken from The story dates to within 50 years of Francis’ life, so it’s not a much later hagiographic (saintly) tale.

St. Francis Preaches to the Birds

“Father Francis and his companions were making a trip through the Spoleto Valley near the town of Bevagna. Suddenly, Francis spotted a great number of birds of all varieties. There were doves, crows and all sorts of birds. Swept up in the moment, Francis left his friends in the road and ran after the birds, who patiently waited for him. He greeted them in his usual way, expecting them to scurry off into the air as he spoke. But they moved not.

“Filled with awe, he asked them if they would stay awhile and listen to the Word of God. He said to them: “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”

Giotto_-_Legend_of_St_Francis_-_-15-_-_Sermon_to_the_Birds“At this the birds began to spread their wings, stretch their necks and gaze at Francis, rejoicing and praising God in a wonderful way according to their nature. Francis then walked right through the middle of them, turned around and came back, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic.

“Then he gave them his blessing, making the sign of the cross over them. At that they flew off and Francis, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, went on his way.

“Later, Francis wondered aloud to his companions why he had never preached to birds before. And from that day on, Francis made it his habit to solicitously invoke all birds, all animals and reptiles to praise and love their Creator. And many times during Francis’ life there were remarkable events of Francis speaking to the animals. There was even a time when St. Francis quieted a flock of noisy birds that were interrupting a religious ceremony! Much to the wonder of all present, the birds remained quiet until Francis’ sermon was complete.”

By the way, if I tried doing this with my neighborhood birds, they’d probably just start complaining about how stale the feed and dirty the birdbath water is… Sigh. I’m still longing for the ideal…