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Assisi is the most peaceful and beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

The climb up to St. Francis’ hermitage was steep. It took us an hour to trek what was barely a mile. The thought of St. Francis hiking the trail on the regular was enough energy for me.

The little cave we were climbing to could be what one would call a “thinking spot”. The man would go up there to get away from the hustle of city life and pray about what it was God wanted him to do. He agonized about whether he was called to be a hermit to pray for the people or to be with them, helping them and loving them in the person. I don’t think he ever actually figured this out.

Is this not such a human issue?  His struggle is so much our struggle, especially that of a near-graduating college student. I’ve felt that anxiety of not knowing what I’m going to do with my life. I could so vividly imagine the man lying on the cold floor of his little cave and begging God for some sort of answer about what to do and when to do it, falling asleep there, in silent contemplation.

But the hermitage, it turns out, was only half up the mountain. It was obvious to us that St. Francis would have continued to climb it, as far as he could, loving all the beauty of nature around him as he went.

So we did too. Passed “Trail for Experts Only” sign. Over the chest-high stone wall. Weaving up the mountain, we went on up, step by step, until our thighs were numb and the air was too thin to get a good breath. Up. St. Francis would have kept going.

We reached a barbed-wire fence just below the peak of the mountain and walked alongside it until we found an opening.

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 The beauty surpassed what could have ever come through in a lens.

The final stretch was the hardest of all. The climb was so steep we had to dig our hands into the rocky dirt to level ourselves, and the though the distance was short, our lungs ached for a break in the exhausting activity. But we continued; up.

The top was absolutely beautiful. Patches of snow were scattered across the peaks. Horses grazed on the hill across the valley. We could see the entire city of Assisi and all the calm and peacefulness that was so recognizable in the quaint little town was there even more so on top of this mountain. The sun was beginning to set over the town and all it’s marvelous colors were being delicately painted across the sky.

Assisi, your beauty and peacefulness are unfathomable.

 

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The Good Creatures

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I met a puppy in the mountains of Monte Verde. There he was, just sitting there on a step, looking at the world around him in a kind of contemplative gaze. He had curiosity in his eyes, but remained still. The puppy’s feet were caked in dirt, yet his thick fur wasn’t matted. It was clear the soft and silent creature had adapted to such an environment; he didn’t belong to anyone here. This pup was a roamer of the rainy green mountain jungle. And, of course, just like all puppies, if not more, he was really, really cute.

Animals are some of the only creatures we are able to love completely and indiscriminately, something we have such a hard time doing with each other. We love these creatures for what they are and what they are not. Perhaps our dominion over and likeness to such creatures is reflective of God’s dominion over us: we watch them make silly decisions, run around in circles, get a mouthful of dirt or poo or roll in the trash or whatever, but at the end of the day we are always given what it is we need and are a part of a ceaseless and forgiving love.

A passionate bishop in the 2nd century, Gregory of Nyssa worked on merging the truths of science and the truths of  faith. One of his main areas of focus was the study of animals and their relation to man. Good ol’ Greg’s argument is essentially that animals are created for the good of humans. It is the ox that tills the land, the sheep wool that keeps us warm, the alligator skin that protects us in battle, the wood of the tree that creates our ships and houses. Humans have a deeply-rooted dependency on animals and nature in order to survive and, in turn, for animals to serve their purpose to God.

Now, there should be something bothering you about this argument here.

If humans are created to be so dependent on animals, then why are they no longer a part of our everyday lives? The only creatures I regularly come into contact with is my dog, the birds, squirrels, and the melancholy farm cows I pass while connecting the dots between Texas and Oklahoma via I-35.

But maybe this is a part of the problem. It is no secret that we are not exactly taking the best care of our precious Earth. I think we all know that regressing back to the pre-industrial revolution is not the solution; technological and mechanical innovation is natural and good for human progress and development. But, I will dare to say that the solution probably lies beyond the easy recycling or the designation of reserves to keep our greedy, grimy hands off of  certain parts of God’s green earth. If animals and the environment were created to serve humans, are we not depriving them of their purpose by only widening the gap between our everyday lives and the great outdoors?

Is this perhaps why we are so willing to trash our oceans, pollute or skies, slaughter thousands of animals a day just to sustain our everyday lives, because we lack the understanding (or acknowledgement) that such a creation is created for us, and, in turn, we are responsible for it? 

What if we made an effort to integrate ourselves within environment again? Is it possible to maintain a symbiotic relationship between ourselves and the natural world around us? How difficult it would be to create such a relationship again.

I loved this puppy in Monte Verde.  I loved this puppy because he was a puppy and it was almost unnatural for me not to. I loved this puppy because he was a living creature. I loved this puppy because he was simple, he was unique, and he was good.

If Gregory was right, then does our abuse of what was created for us reflect how we believe God looks after us? How do you believe that God loves you?

I’m still thinking about this.

Peace.