WHEN I SPEAK on the phone with Anne Symens-Bucher, she tells me about the end of St. Francis of Assisi’s life. Francis “was losing sight, suffering from the pain of the stigmata, and on the margins of the community that had grown up to follow him,” Symens-Bucher explains. “This is the moment he writes the ‘Canticle of Creation.’” Symens-Bucher is one of the founders of Canticle Farm in Oakland, Calif., a community of eight households where the fences are taken down, giving access to a large garden in the middle. Canticle Farm is made up of people who, in Symens-Bucher’s words, are “experimenting at the intersections of faith-based, social justice-based, and Earth-based nonviolent activism.” In his canticle, after which this community is named, Francis praises God from a deep sense of kinship with all creation. He sings of “brother fire,” “sister water,” “brother wind,” “mother earth.” Birthed as Francis approaches his own death, it is a vivid, sober-minded song of the interconnectedness of all life.
Western colonialist people have often failed — or refused — to recognize this interconnectedness. Earth, animals, plants, and people suffer from our (and I say “our” because I speak as a white U.S. citizen) denial of this oneness. Soils are depleted, waters and air are poisoned, and sea levels rise and temperatures warm, threatening the most vulnerable among us immediately, and all of us eventually. Perhaps in this time of environmental crisis, we might find a “canticle” moment, one that renews our kinship with creation.
Liz Carlisle explores these questions in Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice, and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming. As an environmental scientist looking for healthy soil, Carlisle interviews experts who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color — scientists and farmers engaged in work ranging from bringing buffalo back to the prairie ecosystems of Montana to growing mushrooms on ancestral forest land in North Carolina. Through the process, she realizes that if we’re serious about fighting climate change by rebuilding soil carbon, we’re going to have to address the very roots of the colonialist systems in which we live.