Last week I shared the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. Today, Lion’s Whiskers offers two books on the same theme. On Lion’s Whiskers, we define spiritual courage as that which fortifies us as we ask questions about purpose and meaning. Today we review books about people who answered those questions for themselves, and had the courage to act accordingly.
Saints Among the Animals, written by Cynthia Zarin and illustrated by Leonid Gore, is a beautifully simple book for independent readers, giving very short stories of some of the saints whose legends involve animals. St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio is here, of course, but so are much lesser known saints. There is Saint Werbuge, who patiently reasoned with a flock of geese that were destroying farm crops; we have Saint Canice, who used the antlers of a living stag as a book stand, Saint Colman, for whom a fly acted as a reliable living bookmark. Ten saints make up the collection, offering a glimpse of a simpler time when people were still sorting out what it might mean to be Christian (perhaps a quest still ongoing?) and what embracing all living things might look like. These are mostly gentle courage stories, about people with the courage to live as their consciences commanded, without heed for raised eyebrows among their fellow human beings. That makes these stories of moral courage and social courage, as well as spiritual courage. Read these stories on your own to retell to younger children on a nature walk, perhaps, or leave for your older reader to nibble on. The writing is excellent, not didactic, and not in any way evangelizing. It’s very fine.
“Sing praises to Sister Moon and the stars… sing praises to Brother Wind and to the air and the clouds…Sing praises to Sister Water…” Part of a Mohawk blessing song in a Joseph Bruchac book maybe? No, this is from the Canticle of Brother Sun, written by Saint Francis. Saint Francis Sings to Brother Sun: A Celebration of His Kinship with Nature, by Karen Pandell with illustrations by Bijou Le Tord, is a truly exquisite book for young and old. In large format with deceptively rustic pictures (they seem childishly simple, until you look closely) the book outlines the life of Francis of Assisi in brief vignettes, interspersed with verses of the canticle (which would make an awesome dinner blessing for a special occasion.) What would that really be like, to give away everything as Saint Francis did? To save no food for tomorrow but to give it to the birds and rely on providence for tomorrow? In today’s possession-heavy world, it’s a challenge to imagine the wealthy and privileged young Francis taking a vow of poverty, and walking so carefully that he not harm a worm, or an ant, or even tread carelessly on spilled water. In this we see echoes of the Buddha’s journey and practice. Such complete reverence for all of life actually takes extraordinary courage. You might be inspired to create a courage challenge for yourself and your family: spend a day doing no harm to any living thing. What does it take? What will it cost you? Do you need the courage of a saint?