October 4th is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Once a favorite of mine, I am re-reflecting this year about St. Francis and a spirituality of the tropical climate. As the Autumn season begins in North America and leaves are changing from green to yellow, orange, and red, life along the equator continues to be lush and green, with drenching downpours soaking already wet earth. Near the equator, there is no Autumn, there is no winter darkness. Alas, I returned to my native land more than two months ago. The Autumn is beautiful, but I do miss my tropical environment.
When I think of St. Francis, I remember his deep commitment and vow of poverty; I remember his Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, which the hymn All Creatures of Our God and King was based on; and I remember his love of all creation and animals. I can’t help but wonder what a St. Francis in the tropics would be like. His life in poverty wouldn’t be far above some Indonesians. Would he preach to the Orangutan and the birds of paradise? Would he preach to a mosquito on his arm and call it his brother, or take a whack at it like I’d do?
Geckos (called cicak in Indonesia–that’s pronounced chee-chak, with a very short “k”) are friends to those who live in the tropical climate near the equator. These wall lizards are welcomed into the house, and in Indonesia there are also superstitions about the cicak. In my room in Indonesia I used to talk to the cicak on my walls, and thank them for eating the mosquitoes. In this cold climate with well-sealed homes in the USA (specifically in the Pacific Northwest), I miss the chirping of the cicak, and the comfort it gave me as it devoured mosquitoes. I can imagine the cicak as my brothers and sisters, and even St. Francis preaching for them.
Although I get laugh out of trying to imagine St. Francis being bitten by swarming mosquitoes trying to preach to the birds in the midst of a massive Sumatran downpour, I do think about walking and praising everything in the spirit of St. Francis–underneath the forest canopy and through the traditional markets and the rice fields of Indonesia. And that gives me joy.
My Indonesian friends might be surprised that many North American Protestants follow the calendar of saints and celebrate the lives of long gone Roman Catholics. It’s a beautiful thing to recognize the great people that have gone before us and help us connect with the Holy One. But it’s not just them; the saints are, in fact, all around us. They are us. We are all saints, and indeed sinners. I think about the saints dear to my heart and wonder about the ones I’ve never heard of. I think about creation, and specifically the rich biodiversity found within Indonesia’s archipelago.
On this Feast Day of St. Francis, I sing my praise to the cicak, the geckos of Indonesia, and I offer this verse reflecting Creation in the tropics that can be sung to the tune of All Creatures of Our God and King (but I’m still not ready to give thanks for the mosquito):
Thou brother cicak on the wall
who keeps us safe from dangers all
Oh praise Him, Alleluia!
Thou mother forest standing strong
Thou growing forest all year long
O praise Him, O Praise Him
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!