Fr. Dale Matson
St. Francis Reclining Statue In Wooded Area Above Assisi
I will readily admit that I am not an expert on either John Muir or St. Francis. Because of my experiences in the Sierras, I am drawn to the writing of John Muir and because of my vocation; I am interested in St. Francis. Muir was essentially self-taught and did not graduate from college. St. Francis never aspired to the priesthood and remained a deacon until his early death at age 45. After a recent visit to Italy, I was struck by the common ground between these extraordinary men. John Muir could just as easily have written an excerpt from The Canticle Of Brother Sun.
“Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars Formed by you so bright precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind and the airy skies, so cloudy and serene; For every weather, be praised, for it is life-giving.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water So necessary yet so humble, precious and chaste.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire, Who lights up the night, He is beautiful and carefree, robust and fierce.
Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, Mother Earth, who nourishes and watches us while bringing forth abundant fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”
St. Francis could have written an excerpt from John Muir’s My First Summer In the Sierra.
“Here I could stay tethered forever with just bread and water, nor would I be lonely; loved friends and neighbors, as love for everything increased, would seem all the nearer however the many miles and mountains between us.”
“It would be delightful to be storm bound beneath one of these noble, hospitable, inviting trees, Its broad sheltering arms bent down like a tent, incense rising from the fire made from its dry fallen branches, and a hearty wind chanting overhead.”
Both of these men led reform movements aimed at restoring human souls and gaining the ear and respect of men over them. Pope Innocent III supported the mission of St. Francis and Theodore Roosevelt supported John Muir’s efforts. Both were at home in the woods communing with nature. While some would say that Muir was spiritual not religious, I would note that much of the language used by Muir alluded to the unseen hands that created the beauty around him. Muir is most closely associated with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in general and Yosemite in particular.
Townsley Lake In Yosemite
St. Francis led a simple life of poverty but not one of severe asceticism. John Muir’s wilderness travels were outfitted with the bare necessities. Both men rejected the values of their fathers. They were primarily wandering evangelists wanting to reclaim what had been lost.
It is somewhat sad that a humble man like St. Francis who embraced poverty and resisted life in a monastery would be enshrined in an enormous basilica covered with Frescos. It is also sad that John Muir’s followers in the Sierra Club have forgotten their anthem, “Faithful Defender Of The People’s Playgrounds.” Do the people still matter?