Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity essayist Sister Martin Flavin, OSF, PhD and artist: Sister Mariella Erdmann, OSF, MFA collaborate on this 2015 Propositum article published for the International Franciscan Conference TOR on the topic of Responsibility for All God’s Creation.
In the pastor’s horse-drawn cart borrowed for the trip, Mother Gabriel and her companion approached the sun-sparkling Silver Lake where it was her custom to stop a bit on her journey from the newly established motherhouse to the small village where she had grown up, some twenty miles west. These quiet acres would be the perfect location from which the new community could travel to share dedicated lives, having taken vows and being readied to teach the little ones of parents newly come to this unsettled farm land of a “new world.” Here, for 145 years, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity have continued to “recognize the challenges of their world and accept responsibility for all creation in contemplation and, through prophetic action, dream, explore, and take new risks.”
As did our patron, Saint Francis of Assisi, the Sisters strive “to fulfill our mission as ecclesial women through a life of contemplation and action, making every effort to integrate these elements so that we will become truly religious persons whose lives are rooted in prayer and whose prayer is rooted in life.” (Constitutions I C) We Franciscans have been given the grace and wisdom to become immersed in both our Beloved and His creation. Through years of contemplation, our Father Francis was able to express the beauty and unity of all creation; he surrendered himself to His Beloved and responded to all creatures and every form of life. His “Canticle of the Creatures” is the perfect expression of the experiences Francis realized through both his prayer and his interactions with all of God’s creation.
Sister Mariella Erdmann’s oil painting, “Canticle of the Creatures,” presented here and exhibited in the Franciscan Center for Music Education and Performance at Silver Lake College of the Holy Family, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, visually incorporates the ideas expressed in Saint Francis’ poem. As the artist reflects, “Today we are often unaware of our relationship to the elements of creation. It is unfortunate that we lose sight of this sensual reality that Saint Francis was able to turn into mystical experience.”
The four elements – fire, water, air, and earth – are portrayed by the artist in her “Canticle of the Creatures.” These elements are a part of Saint Francis’ vision of God, creation, and the human soul. In Francis’ own words, “I wish to compose a new hymn about the Lord’s creatures, of which we make daily use, without which we cannot live, and with which the human race greatly offends it Creator,” he gives the basis for his hymn. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Water, Sister Air, Brother Fire, and Sister Earth all become his companions in praising God. With Francis, the artist would have us all pray, “Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility” as we contemplate her interpretation of his hymn.