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.

Gotta Love Buechner: theological beauty

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Frederick Buechner has always been one of those theological, pastoral voices that I have personally drawn from in my life. His writing is a unique language of poetry, theology and philosophy that creates a verbal canvas of grace.

He has written many books that I hope you would consider investigating. Below are some great thoughts from many of his volumes:

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“Go where your best prayers take you.”  ~Frederick Buechner

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” ~Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation

“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” ~ The Alphabet of Grace

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” ~ Frederick Buechner

“Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.” ~ Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

“Many an atheist is a believer without knowing it just as many a believer is an atheist without knowing it. You can sincerely believe there is no God and live as though there is. You can sincerely believe there is a God and live as though there isn’t.” ~ Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith

“Maybe it’s all utterly meaningless. Maybe it’s all unutterably meaningful. If you want to know which, pay attention to what it means to be truly human in a world that half the time we’re in love with and half the time scares the hell out of us. Any fiction that helps us pay attention to that is religious fiction. The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The strange coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Even the smallest events hold the greatest clues.” ~Lecture to a Book of the Month Club

“You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.” ~The Sacred Journey

“Grace is something you can never get but only be given. The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you. I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”  ~Wishful Thinking

“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past … to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” ~Wishful Thinking

“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” ~Frederick Buechner

“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is 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.” ~Frederick Buechner

“You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. … You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”  ~Beyond Words

“In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.” ~Frederick Buechner

“In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.” ~Frederick Buechner