Africa, July/August 2019, Vol. 84 No. 6

From My Bookshelf: Frank Conlisk reviews

Finding God in a Leaf

Apart from religious “professionals” of one sort or another, who has the time these days – or even the inclination – to read through papal encyclicals or other formal Church documents? The thought of finding yourself knee deep in “Vaticanese” is not many people’s idea of fun. Even a document in the very accessible style of Pope Francis can be daunting in a world grown used to tweets, sound-bites and scrolling news bars. For this reason, Brian Grogan’s recent publication Finding God in a Leaf. The Mysticism of Laudato Si’ – A Month of Reflections is a welcome find. 


Because in this booklet of just 64 pages, Fr Grogan S.J. leads us through some of the major themes of Laudato Si’…on care for our common home, in an easy yet thought provoking way and leaves us wanting more. He does so using a “thought for the day” format with thirty-one, short reflections – one a day, for a month. I would suggest however that a longer time – maybe even a week – be spent on some of the reflections as many of them are meaty and offer considerable food for thought. 


The title of Pope Francis’ encyclical comes from The Canticle of the Sun, composed by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. In this poem/prayer, God is praised for all the creatures of the earth and for the magnificence of creation itself. With the canticle as the backdrop, the Pope looks at how we are doing as caretakers of our little corner of it – our common home. And we are not doing very well. He critiques consumerism and irresponsible development which he blames for keeping people in poverty. He laments environmental degradation and speaks out against global warming, calling all the people of the world to take “swift and unified global action.” The encyclical was welcomed by political leaders from around the world, by representatives of both Christian and non-Christian faith communities and by prominent figures of the scientific world. 


Clearly, this is a very important document of critical, global significance. But facts, figures and statistics seldom impassion us, excite us or rouse us to personal commitment. This is where Grogan scores. He begins with our everyday, seemingly ordinary experiences which he calls “luminous moments.” He quotes Pádraig Pearse Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy, to see a leaping squirrel in a tree…or little rabbits in a field at evening, lit by a slanting sun… (see page 2). In these moments, you feel that a veil has been drawn back – that behind this everyday event there is something more, “and you are being invited in”. In these “Ah” moments, we sense the presence of the divine. 


This is the experience of the mystic and Laudato Si’ invites us all, claims Fr Brian, to become “mystics in the making” as it were. Hence the subtitle of this booklet. God, Pope Francis affirms, is present in nature – the first scriptures. This awareness can generate in us an even deeper sense of wonder, of reverence and awe in those “luminous moments”. Thus inspired, we will want to protect and care for our common home all the more. Grogan comments, “When my home is under threat, I will fight tooth and nail to protect it and those living in it, because I love it. Such commitment is needed today if our small and fragile planet is to be brought back to health…Once you get caught into the deeper mode of seeing the reality that is around you, things… become sacred.”


Half of the booklet – the first 15 days, entitled The Doors of Perception – is dedicated to enabling us to develop this new way of seeing and as a consequence, “bonding” with nature. The second half, Repair my House! looks at the Pope’s analysis of the damage that has been done and how we might be part of the healing process. 


Fr Brian’s style is direct, conversational, engaging and easy to understand. Each daily reflection is based on insights – and quotations – from the encyclical and there is ample use of catchy, memorable phrases throughout. “Every garden is a divine schoolroom” (p24). “A messy pile of autumn leaves is a divine mystery before being a problem to be swept up!” (p25). “All is sacred…the cosmos is a divine love-song” (p54).


Not alone is this booklet a good introduction to Laudato Si’, it would also be a very worthwhile investment for those of you who are interested in exploring the New Creation Story – an exploration I highly recommend. In any case, at €4.95 you can’t go wrong. 

Published by Messenger Publications, 37 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2. ROI. €4.95; £3.95

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