By Michael Divine
Detail of the painting Recognition/Compassion (St. Francis)
St. Francis – he always seemed to be around when I was growing up. I had a St. Francis nightlight of glowing yellow translucent porcelain. He was over our TV, as a cross stitch on burlap or something – some coarse material – it came out of the 70s. In that, St. Francis was walking outside and had a bird in his hand. I remember, too, a rabbit, another bird flying, and a butterfly. The stitching was sparse but there he was. A two foot tall concrete statue of him lived in the garden.
So he was around. Who was he, to me, growing up? Of all the characters of Christian pantheon – and I heard about plenty – he seemed to be the least mythic – and the most human. He was a simple and gentle man, a monk, who loved nature and walked amongst the animals and saw the God in all things.
My parents took us hiking a lot. My Dad would comment on how lovely it smelled, how beautiful the trees or the leaves were, the songs of the birds, and we’d drink hot chocolate. My parents delighted in seeing different birds, maybe another occasional animal or the tracks thereof. What I’m saying is: we were brought up with a love of nature and a respectfulness of the earth we walked upon.
It was later that I had my own more personal experiences of that ‘God in all things’. And it deepened a sense that was planted there at the start.
St. Francis is as close to we get to a ‘pagan’ in Christianity: a lover of the earth. A compassionate friend to ALL things. Someone who took to heart the message in Genesis – of being a steward of the Earth. Being a steward is a humble job. A master has dominion over all things and is at the top of a hierarchy. A steward… a caretaker… Neither high nor low. Just walking the path and taking care – recognizing the divine in all things.
A while back I picked up a book titled The Art of Japan. On the cover there is a painting of Amida Buddha (Amitabha) in gold leaf on a black background. I imagine it to be a flat matte black. I saw that painting and I thought about it’s technique – and that a painting of St. Francis like that would be lovely. Obviously that changed.
In any case, I made this painting of St. Francis as a gift to my parents in honor of their 40th anniversary in June, 2014.