In the heart of the city of Santa Fe lies the church of St. Francis.
Beautiful and lifelike statues, a large crucifix with what looked like real hair, and relics of saints reminded me of Catholic churches in Spain and Rome I visited as a child. I remember how strange I felt in those old churches. “That’s a bone of St. Theresa? That’s hair from St. Anthony?” My young mind took it in, not particularly scared as I believed those relics to be a connector to something greater than this earth. A part of me thought, “yuck. Ewww.” But I didn’t think I was supposed to be thinking or feeling that so I squelched it pretty deeply. All of it was a bit confusing to my young mind.
Now 40 some years later, I walked through this church with my 7 year old, taking the time to stop, consider and sit, answering his questions as we went.
We paused at the central fountain dedicated to St Francis and animals.
“What do you see Robbie?”
Robbie replied, ” Fish…heh they all have wings!…”
“He must have loved animals.”
“Yes he did, Robbie. In fact they celebrate his life every year with what is called a Feast Day.”
“Do they eat a lot on that day?”
“No, instead people bring all their animals to the church to be blessed”. (We later read the prayer to St. Francis for animals, included below.*”
We got up and walked around the corner to the east. My brain started firing random questions and thoughts, “Are churches built directionally on a north south axis? Why is their a body on the crucifix vs none in Protestant churches? Are people in warmer countries more bodily oriented, more visual and kinesthetic in learning?
Brighter colors, more passionate, are they really more passionate? Hmmm, hotter foods related to natural antibacterial properties…Well, maybe the body on the crucifix relates to earlier translations of what the “passion” is…over the years, more flare, visuals, and color being equated with sin…”
All of those thoughts between a breath.
Robbie: “Mom? My mind can be such a pain sometimes.”
Robbie: “It just goes and goes and won’t be quiet.”
Mom:”Yes Robbie, I was just having that experience.
Sometimes our thoughts take over, don’t they? Why don’t we just sit and pay attention to our breathing for a bit.”
After a bit, I looked over at him sitting by my side. He was looking over his left shoulder at Jesus on the cross.
I asked, “How do you feel about the crucifix Robbie, any questions for me?”.
Quiet for a minute, he whispered,
“I believe Jesus must have been very very brave, Mom.”
Tears sprang to my eyes.
We held hands.
We stayed in quiet for a bit more.
Robbie: “Mom, was Jesus an Einherjar?”
We have been studying mythology. Nordic mythology has been of particular interest to him of late.
Mom: “What does that mean to you?”
Robbie: “Well, an Einherjar is a very brave warrior who fought for others and died to save them without thinking of himself. Then they go to Valhalla.”
Mom: “He was very brave, and he did die for others, Robbie. He tried very hard to teach people to be kind, to love each other, and to help those that may not have as much as they do so that everyone can have a happy life. He also died to try and show people that there was something more than the day to day to life, that there was something larger and beautiful that we could all connect to all the time.”
Robbie: “All I know is that he was brave mom.” Pause… “Let’s go now.”
On our way out, we stopped and looked at the relics and talked about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Near the door, he stopped and watched people make the sign of the cross. And then stopped at the font and dotted his forehead, heart, and shoulders with water.
Robbie: “I love you Mom.”
Mom: “I love you, too. You are my Einherjar, Robbie.”
He squeezed my hand and we met our friend Christina at the door.
Prayer of Saint Francis for Animals
God Our Heavenly Father,
You created the world
to serve humanity’s needs
and to lead them to You.
By our own fault
we have lost the beautiful relationship
which we once had with all your creation.
Help us to see
that by restoring our relationship with You
we will also restore it
with all Your creation.
Give us the grace
to see all animals as gifts from You
and to treat them with respect
for they are Your creation.
We pray for all animals
who are suffering as a result of our neglect.
May the order You originally established
be once again restored to the whole world
through the intercession of the Glorious Virgin Mary,
the prayers of Saint Francis
and the merits of Your Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ
Who lives and reigns with You
now and forever. Amen.