I spent the year 2017 meditating on the writings of St. Francis of Assisi. It was a truly inspiring journey for me. I also read numerous books about his life and faith adventure. I experienced such good disruption in my soul as a result that I decided to work through my “Francis Encounter” by writing a blog entry each week. I plan to expound on a thought, quote, or concept that I learned from Francis along the way trusting that it will aid you in your journey.
I believe the way of Francis is the best way to reclaim a world gone over the edge.
He launched a Reformation before the Reformation…
He saw the macro story of God in the micro story of all things…
He revealed his faith in God through his actions and his worship…
He cared little for the power structures and systems of his day…
He longed, with all his soul, to be united to Christ through love, devotion, and intimacy…
In his 44 short years of life Francis reformed the church and showed us how to be human, not super-human. So many of the stories surrounding Francis of Assisi paint a picture of a man who wandered through life-like a magnet of love. The creatures of the forest would gravitate toward him, eating scraps from his outstretched hands. A spiritual master who easily slipped in and out of heaven with little effort. A saint who floated over the trials of life will little effect, A sage who spoke the language of the stars and the insects and the unknown tongue of God.
Images such as these make Francis inaccessible, unapproachable, and too “other.” They make him more divine than human, making it easy to dismiss the earthy, real, human life and invitation he offers to us all. As I have poured over his writings, and stories about him, I was thankful to meet a different Francis. A Francis who struggled and didn’t always get it right. A Francis that got angry, got real and suffered deep pain. But the remarkable thing about Francis was how he continued to lean into God when he fell off the path time and time again, getting back up, and stepping into the newness of grace each time.
It is this Francis we can follow. This is the man of earth, with dirt under his fingernails and regret in his gut. He helps us get up again, recommit our awkward spirituality to God with humility and hope, and experience a real life. It is in his authentic, raw, and broken humanness that we see his wonderful holiness.
The allure of Francis crosses the borders of believers and doubters, skeptics and faithful. He wasn’t trying to gain a following, in fact, the growth of his movement was somewhat of an irritation for Francis. He welcomed followers but didn’t really want to lead them. His longing was to immerse himself in the life of Christ so that he might swim in the unity of Trinity which would result in living a life of compassion, love, and justice. A life-like Jesus.
Francis knew that the spiritual world was significantly larger [if that term can even be justified] than the tangible world. That what we see in the physical is a portal to the spiritual. There was no binary thinking for Francis. His world was God’s world, everything seen and unseen. There is no dark corner where God’s presence does not also exist, including the darkened rooms of our sin affected soul. For Francis, the dualities which run our world were illusions to be dissipated through faith in the one who is everywhere and is everything good.
So, if the kingdom of heaven was somewhere out there, it was also in here, in us, with us. To experience the deeper places of God meant to more fully meet Him in our humanness. In order to reach into heaven, one must stand on earth. This gave Francis an amazing sense of God’s mercy which allowed him to approach the newness and grace that comes to us from God with every breath we take.
In his book “Eager To Love” Richard Rohr writes:
“Francis knew that if you can accept that the finite manifests in the infinite, and that the physical is the doorway to the spiritual (which is the foundational principle we call “incarnation”) then all you need is right here and right now–in this world. This is the way to that! Heaven includes earth. Time opens you up to the timeless, space opens you up to spacelessness, if you only take them for the clear doorways that they are. There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments–and it is we alone who desecrate them by our blindness and lack of reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it. You really cannot get any better or more simple than that, in terms of a spiritual vision.” (pg. 6)
In our day and age, people are hungry for something more… just as Francis was in his day. The current menu of moralism and ritual offered up by the church has by and large been received by the seeking multitudes in the same way broccoli and brussel sprouts cause a three years olds nose to crinkle up in disgust.
Men and women who hunger for something that they haven’t known or seen are looking for answers anywhere but the church, so it seems. When a Christian lives, speaks and interacts with love, grace, and humility, she is either seen as the exception or considered to be a pretender. The church lives in the land of duality but Jesus didn’t. The church seems incapable of living a “both-and” or a “now-and-not-yet” theology as Jesus and Francis did. The mindset of duality creates an “us” versus “them” mentality where we become a label factory identifying who is in and who is out. One main problem here is that every Christian tribe labels different kinds of people, well, differently. This leaves many confused, angry and disillusioned.
For Francis, there was no label maker, just the compassionate call to love those people God placed in his path the best he could, regardless of who they were, what their sins were, or even what their socio-economic background was.
Our world is longing to feel, be embraced by, and swim in the ocean of God’s love, but they aren’t finding it in the followers of Jesus often enough…so, they look elsewhere.
Francis cared for the poor.
Francis cared for the sick.
Francis cared for the earth and creation.
Francis cared for the hungry.
Francis cared for the seeker.
Francis cared for the marginalized.
This is the apologetic our spiritually starving world is waiting to see. They know it was in Jesus, some know of Francis, now they are waiting to see it in you and me.
Francis was free from the political, religious, and consumeristic machinery of his day. Faith, simplicity, compassion, and love were the driving force of this reluctant saint. Yet, he wasn’t always a saint. He was raised with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. His childhood home was one of wealth and status. He was born in the town of Assisi in 1181(2) to the given name Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone. His father was a cloth merchant which afforded Francis the opportunities to pursue pleasure and popularity. After a somewhat failed and short military career, Francis began a conversion process of faith in God which put him at odds with his family.
In 1206 Francis heard the voice of God when he was in San Damiano. The voice told him to “Go and rebuild my Church.” This invitation consumed Francis until he died at the age of 44 in 1226.
Francis lived out what he believed and taught. He was radical in his approach to faith and life. His love for Jesus consumed him and stoked the fires of his passion and mission. His message and his method are divine navigational stars for this generation to sail the seas of God’s kingdom here, with us, in us, and around us.
I’ll close this entry with Francis’ Te Deum (Praises to God). He wrote this for a friend, Brother Leo, who had been struggling with some form of temptation. When Francis heard of his friend’s struggle, he asked him for a piece of paper and wrote out the following praises to encourage his dear friend. May they encourage you too.
Praises To God
You are holy, Lord, the only God.
You do wondrous things.
You are strong.
You are great.
You are the most high.
You are the almighty king, holy Father, king of heaven and earth.
You are three and you are one, the Lord God of gods.
You are good, every good, the highest good, Lord God, living and true.
You are love.
You are wisdom.
You are humility.
You are patience.
You are beauty.
You are meekness.
You are a stronghold.
You are rest.
You are joy.
You are hope.
You are justice.
You are all one needs.
You are all the riches we require.
You are beauty.
You are meekness.
You are strength.
You are refreshment.
You are hope.
You are our faith.
You are our only love.
You are all our sweetness.
You are our eternal life.
Great and wonderful Lord,
God almighty, merciful Savior.
On the other side of the parchment he wrote a benediction to his friend Leo which said:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be
gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give
May God bless you, Brother Leo.
…and may God bless you today too…Grace and peace.