St. Francis and the Tropics, Or Why I Sing Praise to the Gecko

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!

Gecko (cicak) on the wall
Gecko (cicak) on the wall

Night Rain

The rain falls nightly now, brining with it a chill to the air. This is deceptive. It’s not really cold to my body and it isn’t Autumn at the equator. When I listen to the sound of the rain—which is at times a roaring noise—on these October nights, some memory inside me expects to arise in the morning to see orange, yellow, and red leaves falling from the trees. But, no. When I peer out my window in the morning light, it is Summer for another day, and I return from my early morning jog to be drenched in sweat, even though my Indonesian friends still wear long-sleeves.

I miss the misty cool mornings of the Pacific Northwest, undoubtably colder than any temperature experienced here in Indonesia. But two months from now, when I greet the Sumatran sunshine, I won’t be missing the Seattle rain.

I’m improving on my Bahasa Indonesia skills. Not always quick to speak, I can understand some, and have brief exchanges. I’m better at writing: Aku senang disini di Indonesia, dan aku juga rindu temanku dan keluargaku di America. Yang tidak ada masalah. Terima kasih Tuhan atas hidup ini. Content here and missing home. It’s no problem to be in between. Yes, thank you God for this life.

I stare at photos of changing Autumn leaves and remember all that goes along with the transition of seasons. Most importantly for now, I’ll take this blessing of the rain-soaked Sumatran earth. This is my season now.

Goodbye, Autumn

As the days draw nearer to the Winter Solstice, the trees have become increasingly bare. Their leaves fall from branches, showering the earth with a cascade of color. Wet and clumped together, the leaves cover sidewalks and dot the still green grass. This being the Pacific Northwest, there is still plenty of green and growth that will last even through winter. Here, the Autumn is a mystical time of changing colors, foggy mornings, and rain. When clouds part, the distant mountain ranges reveal freshly snow-covered jagged peaks, a grand contrast against a deep blue sky.

And I am in the process of saying goodbye to it all, wondering how the change of country, culture, and climate will change my faith.

I am reminded of something I wrote 10 years ago, when I was studying abroad in Tuebingen, Germany. I wrote this after taking a meditative walk, holding a leaf:

My leaf was wet with dew. I noticed the leaves as they fell, how some fell straight down to the ground, others fell on top of branches and bushes, and yet still more floated gracefully and gently to the earth. Each leaf has a different shape, size and color. The leaves that became dry were easily crunched. Every leaf that fell to the ground covered the ground and would someday become a part of the earth. This is a cycle, this is a season. The leaves that were on the trees have served their purpose and it is time to move on. In the spring, new leaves will take their places and it will happen again. My life has changed seasons…

I may not know completely, how the season of my life will change, but I trust God for the guidance, and wait with joy and expectation for what is to come in my new home and community in Indonesia.

Below are photos from walking in Seattle this year:

Autumn leaf with water droplets
Foggy Morning

Click the link to expand the post and see a few more photos I have taken this autumn in Seattle.

Continue reading “Goodbye, Autumn”