For reasons unknown even to me I started a little journey a few of weeks ago through the writings of St Francis of Assisi. I had just watched the film ‘Brother Sun Sister Moon’. I wondered what the real man was like. His writings seemed a good place to start.
I began with Canticle of the Creatures. I wanted to read it slowly, meditatively, prayerfully. The opening praises moved me to praise. Joyfully I read and thought about Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the stars, wind and air, water, fire and earth. I too praised God for those who pardon, love and bear sickness and trial. I thought of some I know who live this way. Then I came to this line: “We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death”.
I stopped reading. My theological training began to inform my thoughts. Death is evil. Death is a result of the Fall. Death isn’t a gift; it’s a punishment for the sin of humanity. Death is an enemy, conquered in the resurrection. How can I thank the Lord for death? I quickly concluded that St. Francis was wrong to sing this. We shouldn’t praise the Lord for death.
My thoughts could have ended there or moved on to other matters, but the shock of St Francis being thankful for death was not easy for me to shrug off. A while later I consulted an obscure theologian named Celine Dion. I’ve been trying to learn French so I bought her ‘The French Album’. She sings with both passion and beauty, and I like that. Near the end of the CD I listened to the following soulful words:
Vole vole petite sœur
Vole mon ange, ma douleur
Quitte ton corps et nous laisse
Qu´enfin ta souffrance cesse
Va rejoindre l´autre rive
Celle des fleurs et des rires
Celle que tu voulais tant
Ta vie d´enfant
I believe there’s an English version of this song somewhere, but for now I’m afraid, dear readers, I’ll need to subject you to my poor French via my translation. Here goes:
Fly, fly little sister
Fly my angel, fly my sorrow
Leave your body, leave us
That your suffering will finally cease
Go join the other shore
That of flowers and laughter
That which you want so much
Your life of a child
I read somewhere that Celine Dion sang these words shortly after the death of a young and close cousin. I can believe that. I can hear the turmoil and emotion that death brings in her voice. I was quietly weeping the first time I heard her sing this verse. I tear up just thinking about these words now.
What kind of tears are these? Are they tears of sadness? Yes, in part. My sister, Renee, just had surgery for bladder cancer. We had a false scare two weeks ago where I feared we might lose her. The alarm was false, but the fear was real. I imagined singing these words to Renee. She’s been through so much over the past six months when she started her treatment. The tears were tears of sadness, but they were also tears of joy.There is a joy in knowing that death can bring relief from the sorrow and pain of this life. When viewed through the cross death is like flying.
St Francis’ song was simply too deep for me to understand. Now I can at least sense what it means to sing “We praise you, Lord, for Sister Death”. As the Bluegrass Psalmist writes “Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away”.