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Franciscan Mysticism
Franciscan Mysticism

An Ordinary Prayer

Friday, October 7, 2022

Professor Joan Mueller, a Franciscan Sister of Joy, shares how Clare of Assisi taught her version of Franciscan prayer (1194–1253):

Often, when we think of mysticism, we conjure up images of difficult prayer techniques and workshops with meditation gurus. Prayer, we believe, is for professionals. . . . We love God, believe in God, but just don’t feel that we can talk with God like the “professional pray-ers.”

But, Franciscanism is a spirituality of the people. The largest order of Franciscans is made up of lay people, and both Francis and Clare chose a quasi-lay lifestyle over the monasticism of their time. Neither Francis nor Clare participated in prayer workshops, nor did they have extensive monastic training, and yet both experienced profound union with God. What was their secret?

Although we have prayers that were written by St. Francis, it is St. Clare, in her fourth letter to St. Agnes of Prague, who explains what is meant by Franciscan prayer. In this letter, written on her deathbed, Clare teaches Agnes to make a habit of daily prayer. This daily practice of prayer, however, is not a difficult task as Clare explains it. . . .

Clare suggests that we . . . “consider the midst of Jesus’ life, his humility, his blessed poverty, the countless hardships, and the punishments that he endured for our redemption.” [1] Here Clare is asking us simply to reflect on the public life of Christ.

Medievals had a great way of doing this type of meditation. When a cathedral or local church was being frescoed, a painter would come to town and the subjects for the paintings that were being commissioned for the church’s walls and ceilings would be decided. But whom would the painter use for his artistic models? Most often, he wandered the local streets, interacted with the villagers, and decided whose faces he might portray. One day you might go to church and find yourself in a fresco listening to Jesus preach. Maybe your face would represent one of the disciples, or one of the women who cared for Jesus. Perhaps one of your children would be listening to Jesus teach. In any case, you would be placed right in the story of the gospel; your face would actually be central to the story.

This is what Clare is asking us to do. Take the gospel for the day, a gospel from mass or the liturgy of the hours, or a gospel passage from a daily devotional and imagine yourself in the midst of the story. Who would you be most comfortable portraying? What are you hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting? Clare asks us to spend a few minutes really entering into the gospel story of Jesus’ public life and imagining what it would be like to be there. . . .

This perseverance and commitment to engaging deeply in ordinary, Christian prayer is what identifies the friar, Poor Clare nun, the Franciscan lay mystic, or the person inspired by Francis.


[1] Clare to Agnes of Prague, 1253, in Clare of Assisi: The Letters to Agnes, Joan Mueller (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 87.

Joan Mueller, “St. Clare of Assisi’s Gospel Mysticism,” Radical Grace 25, no. 1, Franciscan Mysticism (Winter 2012): 10, 20.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops on Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, public domain. Belinda Rain, Nevada, Lake Tahoe California (detail), 1972, photograph, California, public domain. Belinda Rain, Forest (detail), 1972, photograph, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: We look for Spirit in every stone and blade of grass, in everything. We are part of something so much larger, so much grander. God’s grace abounds.

Story from Our Community:

I live by the ocean and walk there frequently. I took a much slower walk yesterday and my spirit being in a different tempo allowed my eyes to see more that God was creating on that day in that moment. This is one of the creations I saw in the sand on my walk… a fish. The very earth cries out God’s majesty. I am so grateful to have this community that seeks to see differently and is therefore open to the marvels of God physically and spiritually within. I appreciate Merton and Francis of Assisi and living in the Beauty and Light that surrounds us and is God with us. —Sharon S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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