Aside from birdbaths, the most well known contribution St. Francis gives to the church is probably the Canticle of the Sun. The invocation of Brother Sun and Sister Moon honor a kinship among all of God’s creations. We hear the names of our family: Wind, Water, Fire, and Mother Earth. Each element inspires the troubadour saint to sing praises to God.
Lots of us experience this deep connection with the divine when we are immersed in nature. Somehow feeling ourselves as a creature among creatures resonates with us. After all, we “remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” We are earth-beings and star-dust, containing both immanence and transcendence. We connect with that close enough to touch and taste and smell – soil, plant, animal. We are linked with galaxies and dark matter beyond our grasp. We are part of it all. All is kindred with us.
So, how do we deal with Brother Covid? Even naming the novel coronavirus as a sibling is jarring to me. And yet, Covid is part of the created world, a living virus. It is a created entity like others named in the Canticle.
Viruses exist around us mostly as a mystery. Some virologists say there are more viruses on Earth than stars in the galaxy. Viruses keep ecosystems in dynamic balance, help with animal adaptation, and regulate bacterial populations. In the wide scope I can easily sing praises to God for Sister Virus in whom we quite literally “live, and move, and have our being.”
Brother Covid, however, is a pathogen. This is a virus that has become deadly and destructive. The reasons we would praise God for viruses are the antithesis of behaviors seen in Brother Covid.
I would love to condemn and convict Brother Covid for the pain, misery, and grief he has caused. And yet, it is not the essence of viruses to destroy; it is merely the pathology of behavior that is destructive. Rather than finding a way to coexist in creation, pathogenic virus exploit the most vulnerable and seek to live at the expense of all other life.
This is something we all recognize in our communities. There are pathological behaviors that must be called out and resisted. These actions may lead to distancing. Our organizing work brings into balance the power of the people and the communities where we are – vaccinating against destructive forces. Our hope in this work, our vision of the world as it could be, creates a beloved community where all are honored, loved, and able to live in peace and harmony. We are called to be healers.
We are told that Francis dictated the final stanza of the Canticle of the Sun on his deathbed. In it he sings praises for Sister Death. He held an understanding that, as created creatures, we would all come to embrace her. For Francis this was not the pathology of a virus or the pathology of destructive behavior. It was the path through and to the hope and promise of the resurrection.
In this Covidtide we are visited too often by a Sister Death brought in by inequity in health care, the violence of racism, the tragedy of a failed response, the clinging to “personal rights” over love of neighbor. Brother Covid reveals our own pathologies.
Let us work to heal ourselves and our communities. Let us inspire others to see kinship in neighbor and nature alike. Let us live life with full abundance so that when Sister Death comes it is as a welcoming presence leading us to everlasting life.