Love: Finding Francis part three

I beseech Thee, O Lord, that the fiery and sweet strength of Thy love may absorb my soul from all things that are under heaven, that I may die for love of Thy love as Thou didst deign to die for love of my love.
– St. Francis of Assisi

We all know the word, but few understand it. Even fewer grasp the love that birthed a Divine longing which consumed Francis. The love for God that baptized Francis became a natural outflow of kindness and compassion to others.

No one was exempt from his wellspring of kindness and love. Eventually, Francis kissed lepers and wrapped his arms around them without hesitation. He saw what God sees in us; beauty, worth, humanity, person-hood. Just like Jesus, Francis was pulled magnetically towards those whom society labeled as “less than” “unlovable” “broken” and “untouchable.” 

Francis inhabited a time when a leper occupied the absolute bottom rung of society being forced to live far removed from the hum and connection of community. There would be no embrace, touch, or caress. People didn’t want to come near them out of fear of contagion. They were forced to live isolated lives wondering what they had done wrong to receive this punishment from God. Seen as expendable, many lepers were killed as sport to a compassion-less world.

Everything people leave after them in this world is lost, but for their charity and alms-giving they will receive a reward from God. – St. Francis of Assisi

It’s hard to love when my identity is tethered to the wrong things. If my identity is tethered more to my patriotism than it is to Christ, I will tend to withhold love from those who threaten my country. I might even feel justified to create painful outcomes from those who would oppose.

If my identity is tethered more to my achievements than to Christ, I will fail to love those who would stand in the way of my advancement.

If my identity is tethered more to my theological or doctrinal beliefs than to Christ, I will become a pharisee refusing to show compassion and grace to those who do not think, believe and behave just like me.

If my identity is tethered more to the things I am passionate about, I will not find the path of love for those whose passions lie in other things.

Francis simply loved the person who was in front of him at the moment. He didn’t need to force himself to be kind and love, his immersion into Jesus gave him a capacity to do more than choose to love…he became love.

When we become love, we lose our judgments allowing God’s compassion to finally flow through us as a natural overflow or like a river at flood stage. You just can’t stop it. ~mcw

Today, you can easily see those who have tethered their identity to something other than the Divine love and compassion of Jesus when they hold signs that say, “God hates fags” or “voting for _____ is against God’s will” or even “Send them back, Don’t let them in our country!”

Imagine how freeing you would feel if you could lose all of your judgments and throw away all of your labels. What might it be like if we could be present with someone who doesn’t fit our ideal or is the antithesis of it, yet, instead of our mind quietly placing them in their own category, or deciding how we fix her or get him to be like us, wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone could just lather the moment in compassion and grace.

So good right?

So what’s the problem then? The problem is we don’t know what love is because we have determined it is either the tingly feeling we get or a definition of some sort of selflessness or otherness. We think that we are loving when “I DO” this or that for someone. We think we can buy love the way we buy loyalty but none of this is love.

Love is free. Love is a force. Love cannot be contained. Love can’t be controlled. What you can do with Love is surrender to it. ~mcw

In his book Surrender to Love, David Benner writes:

“Love reconnects us to life. The truth of Christ’s life is that life is love and love is life. There is no genuine life without love. Self-interest suffocates life. Life implodes when self-interest is at the core. This is why the kingdom of self is based on death. Ultimately, taking care of Number One takes care of no one. For the only way to truly care for myself is to give myself in love of others. There I will find my truest and deepest fulfillment.”

Fascinating to me is that before Francis’ conversion to Love, he had a label and a box to put lepers in. He was disgusted by the smell, sights and sounds. He was appalled by the oozing sores, stumpy hands and odoriferous facial rags. His preference was to be no closer than 2 miles from any leper commune, much like everyone else.

But something happened, or better yet, someone happened. As Francis continued to surrender his whole self to Jesus he began experiencing a soulular transformation.

One day, as Francis was on the road near Assisi, he came upon a leper. At first he felt his body pull back in it’s normative way when confronted by the unwanted, but he also felt something was different in him and he chose love. As the two men came close, Francis got down off of his donkey, walked to the man and kissed him.

Francis listened to the Divine love inside and made a faith choice to love by showing compassion and humanness in a very earthy moment. He surrendered to love and he then began the journey of becoming love.

Frederick Buechner writes:

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

YES! I love that. That speaks of that heart that has become love.

How do we get there you ask? Like Francis, first we surrender daily to the love of Christ, asking God to give us a hunger and a longing for Him. Then we choose to love whoever whenever with whatever means available to us. The first time you choose to love someone that you had previously deemed not worthy, you will cross the same threshold that Francis did with the leper. As you continue, soon it will no longer be a hard choice, it will simply be who you are…

You will become an outflow, a torrent, a tsunami of God’s love that cannot be contained.

Light: 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.

The one about “splagchnizomai”

The word that best describes the motivation of Jesus and the heart of God is splagchnizomai.” The Greek word is translated as compassion, or love and compassion, but it is more powerful than that. This type of compassion is an invitation into being more human while experiencing more of the divine. This episode will change the way you think God thinks about you!

What If?

I have noticed a vast difference…

A vast difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus. Most people have an amazingly positive response towards Jesus, but when you ask them about Christians, well…the response is a mixed bag at best.

Take a moment and experiment with me. Launch a google search with the phrase, “why are Christians so…”

You will get page after page with responses like: “why are Christians so angry, mean, judgmental, hypocritical, hateful…” It takes a number of pages before you find a more positive response.

Here are the first 3 page that came up on my search which neted over 37 million hits:

 

 

In light of who Jesus is, how He interacted with all types of people, and how He modeled love on steroids, one might expect His followers to have the same impact, or leave a similar aroma with people, but the google results are in, and it isn’t favorable.

I am looking forward to the first conversation in my new series “What If?”  where we will major on becoming more like Christ and less like the Google results!