Spiritual Reflections

Above, Below, Around, Within: Soul Connections

Sister Chris Koellhoffer explores "Above, Below, Around, Within: Soul Connections" from a Justice and Peace perspective.

It began with St. Francis of Assisi. Until that year in grade school, I had not heard of any one of my relatives referred to as “sister” unless they were a clear and defined part of my family tree. Unless they claimed a heritage that went back to Ballina, Ireland or Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Then they might be sisters.

When I first listened to St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures,1 I expected to hear words referring to male gender. And so I did: Brother Sun, Brother Fire, Brother Wind. But it was the shift to the feminine that made my ten-year old self sit up and take notice. Sister Moon, Stars, and Sister Water, Mother Earth, and even Sister Death. In that mystical hymn, St. Francis single handedly ushered me into a new sense of sisterhood. Freed my imagination. Stretched my theology. Widened my worldview. Challenged me to expand my sense of neighbor. Now, stars in the night sky, oceans that broke over me in waves, the very earth under my feet were my sisters, as was all of creation. This was my understanding of what sisterhood meant: a place of deep connection, a kinship of the most profound kind. Here, no one was left out. Here, everyone was neighbor, everything belonged.

When we hear the question, “Who is my neighbor?” we may automatically think it refers only to members of the human race. But Brian Patrick challenges us to extend the definition of neighbor further because “our neighbor is also the whale, the dolphin, and the rainforest. Our neighbor is the entire community of life, the entire universe. We must love it all as ourselves.” 2

In 2015, another Francis, Pope Francis, authored an encyclical letter, Laudato Sí.3 He discussed his namesake in the light of integral ecology, considering the interrelatedness of all life and how humans are meant to connect and care for each other and the natural world. In speaking of a sacred sisterhood, Pope Francis underscored that “our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us…This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” 4

 For St. Francis, “each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists.”5 That is why the smallest creature merited the name “sister” or “brother” from his lips. Pope Francis urges us to approach all of nature and the environment with this same openness to awe, to speak the language of kinship and beauty in our relationship with the world.

This same tender care for sisters and brothers finds a home in Rumi, beloved poet of Afghanistan. Rumi lived in the thirteenth century (1207-1273) and his life overlapped somewhat with St. Francis’ (1182-1226). Although they lived nations apart, they were spiritual relatives practicing the same mystical caring for the smallest among us. Rumi echoes the saint from Assisi:

“During the day I hold my feet accountable to watch out for wondrous insects and their friends. Why would I want to bring horror into their extraordinary world?” 6

In Jesus’ earthly life, even something as tiny as a mustard seed captured his attention. He noticed and was tender towards lilies of the field, birds gliding through the sky, fields of wildflowers, a mother hen. Why, then, should we not rescue earthworms after a rainstorm, step carefully over industrious ants on a grassy path, scatter seeds and nuts outside for chickadees after a snowfall? These are all little souls that deserve a life as we do. The call of our sisterhood is simple: to develop a practice of loving what God loves, as God loves.

Perhaps it is children or the childlike among us who intuitively grasp this. Fady Joudah7 witnessed this understanding in the heart of his own child:


My daughter
Wouldn’t hurt a spider
That had nested
Between her bicycle handles
For two weeks
She waited
Until it left of its own accord

If you tear down the web I said
It will simply know
This isn’t the place to call home
And you’d get to go biking

She said that’s how others
Become refugees isn’t it?

Thank you, my sister, beloved daughter of Fady, for embodying what my inadequate words have been trying to say. We celebrate your sisterhood that draws all of creation closer together in love and in kinship.

  1. Canticle of The Creatures, St. Francis of Assisi.You can read the complete text and listen to music at this address: ↩︎
  2. Brian Patrick, quoted by Michael Dowd in Earthspirit: A Handbook for Nurturing an Ecological Christianity,  Twenty Third Publications, 1991 ↩︎
  3. Laudato Si, translated as Praise Be to You. Those words form the opening line of St. Francis’ Canticle of The Creatures. Go to for the full text of this document, On Care for Our Common Home. ↩︎
  4. Laudato Si, 1-2. ↩︎
  5. Laudato Si, 11. ↩︎
  6. Jalaludin Rumi, “Huddled Beneath the Sky,” Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinski, New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 2002, p. 81 ↩︎
  7. Fady Joudah is the author of several volumes of poetry. “Mimesis” is included in Poetry of Presence, An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson. Grayson Books: West Hartford, Connecticut, 2017. Born in Texas to Palestinian refugees, Joudah serves as an Emergency Room physician and volunteers with Doctors without Borders. ↩︎

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