St. Francis and the Sow (Or Hoping Through Exhaustion)

A friend with a life-long career in nursing and educating medical professionals recently said that rejoining the post-vaccine world would be akin to returning from war.

And of course everyone is returning from both the same and different war, and mostly at the same time. I’ve been thinking about that article going around on the pandemic phenomenon of “languishing,” and how there seems to be a pretty good amount of anxiety about things “returning to normal.”

It’s hard to hope again, or even to know what to hope for. It’s hard to want our “old lives” back, to gear up for all the human interaction and stimulation and overwhelm that has fallen away. Or at least has become a different kind of overwhelming.

Like always, I’ve been turning to poetry because it’s my emotional home. And there’s something helpful in Galway Kinnell’s poem, “St. Francis and the Sow” that’s been on my mind.

I’ve also been working on this little collection of jewelry pieces about hope, and yet most of the pieces are a bit dark. Then I realized it was akin to what Kinnell writes, specifically about what he calls “reteaching a thing its loveliness:”

“The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;”

I believe that we are having to reteach our hearts their loveliness, their ability to love, to hope through their exhaustion. And to be witnesses for each other as we do that. That doesn’t look beautiful or sparkly; I think it’s quiet and a bit somber, and that’s okay.

The rest of Kinnell’s poem about the sow is so wonderful:

“…as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.”

The long, perfect, loveliness of sow. St. Francis was an extraordinary witness to earthly beauty in weird places. I believe that if we can be witnesses to one another, reteaching ourselves our loveliness, we can figure out what comes next.

The Hope Collection | Wild and Holy | 5/21

One thought on “St. Francis and the Sow (Or Hoping Through Exhaustion)

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  1. Thank you, Leslie, for sharing the Galway Kinnell poem and your thoughts about the fragile hope of the moment. I’ve been wondering if this is a brief respite from isolation, realizing I have become more anxious, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. To reteach our hearts their loveliness and to witness that with and for others-I love that idea, and it seems to come with the assurance that it will take as long as it takes to be open and trusting again.


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