At Home in the World

Alternative Orthodoxy

At Home in the World
Friday, June 2, 2017

Franciscan alternative orthodoxy emphasized the cosmos instead of churchiness. For the first few centuries, Franciscans’ work was not about the building of churches and the running of services in the churches. We were not intended to be parish priests. Francis himself refused priesthood, and most of the original friars were laymen rather than clerics. Francis knew that once you are in an authority position in any institution, your job is to preserve that institution, and your freedom to live and speak the full truth becomes limited. We were to always occupy the position of “minority” in this world. (The M in OFM stands for minor: Ordo Fratrum Minorum.) Francis wanted us to live a life on the edge of the inside—not at the center or the top, but not outside throwing rocks either. This unique position offers structural freedom and hopefully spiritual freedom, too.

Francis, a living contemplative, walked the roads of Italy in the thirteenth century shouting, “The whole world is our cloister!”[1] By narrowing the scope of salvation to words, theories, churches, and select groups, we have led many people not to pay any attention to the miracles that are all around them all the time here and now. Either this world is the very “Body of God” or we have little evidence of God at all.

The early Franciscans said the first Bible was not the written Bible, but creation itself, the cosmos. “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divinity—however invisible—have become visible for the mind to see in all the things that God has made” (Romans 1:20). This is surely true; but you have to sit still in it for a while, observe it, and love it without trying to rearrange it by thinking you can fully understand it. This combination of observation along with love—without resistance, judgment, analysis, or labeling—is probably the best description of contemplation I can give. You simply participate in “a long, loving look at the Real.” [2]

For Francis, nature itself was a mirror for the soul, for self, and for God. Clare used the word mirror more than any other metaphor for what is happening between God and soul. The job of religion and theology is to help us look in the mirror that is already present. All this “mirroring” eventually effects a complete change in consciousness. Thomas of Celano, Francis’ first biographer, writes that Francis would “rejoice in all the works of the Lord and saw behind them things pleasant to behold—their life giving reason and cause. In beautiful things he saw Beauty Itself, and all things were to him good.” [3] This mirroring flows naturally back and forth from the natural world to the soul. All things find themselves in and through one another. Once that flow begins, it never stops. You’re home, you’re healed, you’re saved—already in this world.

Gateway to Silence:
Everything belongs.

References:
[1] “Sacred Exchange between St. Francis & Lady Poverty,” Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1999), 552.
[2] William McNamara as quoted by Walter J. Burghardt, “Contemplation: A Long, Loving Look at the Real,” Church, No. 5 (Winter 1989), 14-17.
[3] Thomas of Celano, “Second Life of St. Francis,” Saint Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources (Franciscan Press: 1991), 494-5.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and
In the Footsteps of Francis: Awakening to Creation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Umbria, Italy.
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