Water, air, fire, earth

By Laurel Pattenden

One of my favourite saints is St. Francis of Assisi. You can see him loitering in a lot of gardens in his most pleasing cement garments. He is that kindly and humble looking man statue. Easily identifiable in pictures with his troop of birds and bunnies surrounding him.

Along with St. Francis is another favourite of mine, Hildegard of Bingen. Actually, in my list she is in a tie with the man of Assisi for her love and writings on creation.

The majority of Canadians also love creation especially from June to September. (I think we are perhaps a tad less loving in the winter.) Swimming in our multitude of lakes, BBQ-ing and marshmallow roasting over open fires, sailing on cottage lakes and tending our gardens. We rely on these gifts of creation for our summer pleasure.

We also rely on them for our own human sustainability. We could not live without water, air, fire and earth. Things that we take so easily for granted, we would perish without.

Hildegard wrote: God created the world out of its elements to the glory of the divine name. God strengthened it with the wind, connected it to the stars and enlightened it by them, and filled it will all manner of creatures. God then surrounded and fulfilled humankind in the world with all things and gave them a tremendous power, so that all creation would support them in all things. The whole nature should serve them, so that they can live with it, because humankind cannot live or survive without nature.

The Hebrew scripture and the New Testament are full of stories involving these four elements. The flood, the burning bush, baptism in the Jordan, Pentecost with wind and fire. When we celebrate the Eucharist the priest raises the two elements, bread and wine representing Christ, heavenward. These two elements are from the earth. The parables of Jesus all have connections to the earth. St. Francis expressed our close relationship with the four elements by referring to them as Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire and Sister Earth. As kin. Familial.

This summer I was thinking maybe I could try to be a little more mindful when experiencing these four elements. Praise God for water, air, fire and earth. Would you like to join me? We can’t use the excuse that we are not in contact with them. Let’s face it, if you are reading this, you are breathing the air. So that takes care of one element of the four. We are off to a good start. Maybe, at another time, we could look into each of the four elements singularly. Anyways, for now, we could enhance our way with reading some poetry of Wendall Berry or Mary Oliver. Inventory the quotes referring to nature found in Scripture. Which would be surprisingly lengthy. Or you could just sit on the earth, near the shore, feeling the wind on your skin, looking out into the blue sky and say “Thank You, God, Thank You, for Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Sister Earth”.


All praise be Yours, my God, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods,
By which You cherish all that You have made.

All praise be Yours, my God, through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious, and pure.

All praise be Yours, my God, through Brother Fire,
Through whom You brighten up the night.
How beautiful he is, how gay!
Full of power and strength.

All praise be Yours, my God, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits and coloured flowers and herbs.

St. Francis of Assisi


Featured photo: Marc Szeglat, Unsplash