By Michael Traynor
Nature and all things natural have been around for a long time. Some might say as long as the Big Bang. That thought occurred to me a few weeks ago while wandering through the Vatican Museum. There are many stunning objects on display dating from ages past. One painting stopped me dead in my tracks. Let me explain.
In April 1983, my younger self was wandering about the Art Institute of Chicago, clutching a ticket to a traveling exhibit “Treasures of the Vatican Museum.” It introduced me to a world of experience beyond my imagination. Having minimal expectation to be able to see these wonders again, I searched the gift shop for something to remember the experience. I spotted a poster of a painting of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of nature, birds, and animals. It had a presence — of nature, simplicity, antiquity, eternity, and kindness wrapped as one.
The St. Francis poster has hung framed in my bedroom for the ensuing 40 years. My recollection of its story and where it came from had been long forgotten. As I grew older, my enthusiasm for nature grew steadily, inspired perhaps by St. Francis’ watchful gaze.
Now back today in the Vatican Museum, I stopped in front of my painting and exclaimed aloud “St. Francis, what are YOU doing here!? Memories of 40 years ago returned. St. Francis had not changed a bit over all this time! Yet in that time, I had grown much older.
At that moment, I felt my own journey — composed of experiences within and as a part of nature, in an allotted time, accompanied within time by the resonances represented in that painting, and surrounded by it outside of time itself. Could that be what it is like to try to live a life attuned to nature and all living things? Maybe St. Francis was onto something.