It’s not surprising that Franciscan scholars and others who have spent a great deal of time studying and emulating the life of this saint dismiss what they refer to as the saint of the garden birdbaths, something of a fairy-tale figure in distinctive brown robe, usually surrounded by birds and woodland creatures. I get their point that Francis was so much more than this lover of nature and peace.
And yet, there’s something to be said for an image that can transcend both hagiography and theology and reach out to people who may or may not be religiously affiliated. I thought of this (ok, not in such fancy terms!) as I was carrying a three-foot statue of St. Francis through Lowes a couple weeks ago. If anyone had asked, I could have told them who it was and why I was getting it for my yard.
I grew up surrounded by statues, paintings, holy cards, and rosaries. My Grandma kept a holy water bottle on her dresser, next to a pastel Infant of Prague statue. We had a May altar every year, with a statue of Mary and fresh flowers from the yard. I was familiar with saints long before I understood anything about them. It gave me a foundation.
The St. Francis statue and sun and moon spinners that grace my yard connect me to my Assisi pilgrimage and serve as a constant reminder of all that Francis has come to mean in my life. Anyone who visits my home can’t miss them. It’s a quiet kind of evangelization.