Finding Francis: part two

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
~The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi

Mic drop right? And Francis walks off the altar.
Francis masterfully links the images of physical light and spiritual light. This, he believes, is the gamechanger in the herculean struggle against darkness. Dark world, dark soul, dark depression, darkened hope, dark, dark, dark.

Current polls reveal that people who live their lives outside of the church or faith world are not choosing to come inside the church. Today, more than at any other time,  fewer people believe in God and many others who once filled a pew seat are living as spiritual nomads no longer seeing the church as the answer to their spiritual quest.

Why the decline?
Why is the church often the last place people go to find help and answers?
Why has the church lost her once unassailable position as a sanctuary in our turbulent world?

A drumbeat of answers heard playing out in response to these questions from church-goers and church-leaders generally say the problem is with our culture, our world, our politics or our theology.

“We are slouching to Gomorra!” “The end is coming” “We need new politicians” “We just need the Bible and prayer in schools again!”

However, if we are living as light, and instructing our kids to live as light, the presence and power of God should be everywhere we find ourselves whether Bibles or prayer are sanctioned or not. True we need ethical politicians, and I know many who are, but darkness still seems to roll in like a sleepy fog inching its way over the desolate moors of the political landscape even when they are elected.

If Francis is right, the answer is in the quality of a person, not the designation of a person. So, I wonder if it might have something to do with light or lack of it.

When you enter a space or room that is utterly dark a natural tendency is to start rubbing your hands along the wall where you intuit a light switch should be in order to splash on the light. If you are stuck in the dark, unable to find the switch, you will try anything to capture the smallest sliver of light. Without thinking you quickly grab and ignite your cell phone or instinctively squint your eyes hoping to seek out and capture shades of light. When that doesn’t help we go back to the drawing board desperately running our hands along the wall like a mime trying to find the switch, right?

So, I am thinking that if we feel darkness is so bad, no matter who you are, light is something you want.

Here’s where it gets tricky yes? If the church is supposed to be the bearer of light radiating out the beauty, grace, and love of God to people who are desperately mucking about in dark swamps, moors, and deserts, shouldn’t churches be packed with people?

Maybe the light that people are encountering these days isn’t actually light.

When people see followers of the light stand up for and defend darkness it’s no wonder they flee…
When sexism is promoted by demeaning and suppressing women, limiting their divine calling it extinguishes the light…
Saying “Come as you are” but really meaning “only come if you have no apparent and glaring sin or lifestyle difference” extinguishes the light…
Focusing on politics to the exclusion of what the Gospel of Christ commands (compassion, mercy, love, forgiveness) extinguishes the light…
When the message is one of hatred, bigotry, and isolationism, it extinguishes the light…

Francis danced in the light. He knew that it wasn’t about producing light, or creating light or enhancing light. He simply longed to be bathed in the Light. He knew in and of himself, there was darkness…until…the light of Christ filled him. With his soul full of divine light, his goal and driving purpose was to allow that light to lead him and illuminate his every breath.

On another “light” thought, Francis also said “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”  Here he declares the power of light is greater than the power of darkness which is wonderfully intoned in his famous prayer when he writes:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;

Frances knew that we are light-bearers who cause darkness to evaporate simply by showing up, having been prayed up, and willing to be used up. When God’s light spills out of a full human cup, it’s fragrance is grace, peace, joy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. To these, darkness flees.

Francis’ love of God so wonderfully spilled over into his love for all that God created. Mountains, trees, birds, streams, stars, and people. Even in his love for creation, the light was the pinnacle. In the Canticle “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” he writes:

“Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

The sun simply shines…
Day in and day out she illuminates our world…
Her warmth is given to everyone without distinction…

The sun shines because it exists much like God loves because God is love. God cannot be other than He is. I cannot imagine the sun determining to stop giving light to a certain region any more than I could imagine God withholding love from anyone. The sun is light and warmth, just as God is love. When love becomes the inner fuel of God’s presence you will light up your world.

There is a cavernous difference between thinking you are light, telling people you are light, and actually being light. Jesus told His followers to “…let their light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16),

So, when we live out the light that is in us, people notice. But not only do they notice, Jesus tells us that they see the goodness of Christ within and give God glory.

Thinking that I am light can lead to an inflated ego…
Telling people I am light can lead to divisions and perceived judgmentalism…
Being light because you are filled with light is self-forgetfulness at its best. To be light is to acknowledge that you aren’t the light, but humbly long to be immersed in the light. This was the secret Francis found, and it changed his life and the world.

The light metaphor links us back to the sun. The sun warms, sustains life, and allows sight. The sun is an image of passion, consumption and purifying presence

The ancients asked, “Why not be totally changed into fire?” This was the goal of the Light of Francis. Not just an aid for the spiritual journey, but the consummation of the spiritual encounter with Christ. Why not be engulfed in the passionate, consumptive, light that is God revealed in His love?

I wonder if Francis allowed the closing words of the Revelation to form his thoughts on light?

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. ~Revelation 21:22-25

Did you catch that? It seems that when all things are finally redeemed, healed, and made new light is at the center of this new beyond Edenic reality for our eternity.
There will be no need for the sun, moon or stars. There will be no need for your powerful flashlight on energy creating centers. There will be the awesome, majestic, beautiful, sustaining presence of God revealed in light.

So, good…

May we choose to be totally changed into fire, may we choose to be light.

Finding Francis: part one

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
you peace.
May God bless you, Brother Leo.

…and may God bless you today too…Grace and peace.