The early 13th century in Italy must have had a special energetic pattern. Two great observers and lovers of creation lived in the early 1200’s and had an extraordinary impact on how we think about the natural world. While Fibonacci – or Leonardo Bonacci – from the republic of Pisa and St. Francis of Assisi lived approximately 150 miles apart, there doesn’t seem to be evidence that they were aware of each other’s work. (if you find something, please share it!)
Fibonacci is considered one of the greatest mathematicians of the middle ages. He described a sequence in which each number is the sum of the two preceding ones. He saw the spiral of this “golden ratio” repeated throughout the natural world – in shells, plants, animals and humans. In later centuries, we have been able to see the sequence in galaxies, the spirals of hurricanes, fingerprints, and even the structure of DNA.
Not only do I find the aesthetics of this sequence to be exquisitely beautiful, but it fills me with awe to see physical evidence of our interconnectedness with all of the natural world. This weekend in church, we will celebrate the feast of St. Francis and his profound connection to all of creation. While most often seen in pictures with animals and remembered in “Blessing of the Animals” services, Francis worshipped all of the created world. His prayer “Canticle of the Sun” has been part of morning prayer services for centuries and set to music many times.
For Francis, animals were our companions, family members, and teachers. Famous stories like the wolf of Gabbio were used to offer moral teachings to his disciples. One of my favorite animal stories is about the “elephant whisperer” Lawrence Anthony and the extraordinary bond he formed with a band of rogue elephants. Led by a matriarch named “Nana” by Anthony, a herd of wild elephants had become violent, were terrified of humans, and was in danger of being exterminated. Anthony had a wildlife sanctuary and accepted the elephants in hopes that he could save them. Over the course of months and years, Anthony, Nana and the members of the two herds came to trust and love Anthony. They were eventually returned to the bush where they lived peacefully.
This story of rogue elephants coming to trust a human being despite previous mistreatment is remarkable in itself. However, when Anthony died suddenly of a heart attack, his son Dylan reported that the two herds traveled for more than 12 hours to the sanctuary to pay their respects. The bond between human and animal was so strong that somehow they knew when he had died and they gathered to mourn for their friend.
This story, and other stories of animals’ loyalty, love, courage, humor, and compassion can help us grow spiritually. Just as our physical bodies reflect the beauty of the Fibonacci sequence, our spirits can reflect the nobility and unconditional love that many of us experience with animals. Listen to my sermon on this week’s reasons by clicking here.