Francis came to know the God of humble love by meditating on and imitating the poor and humble Christ.
Franciscan mysticism is about an intuition of Jesus as the Incarnate and Universal Christ. Francis discovered and so powerfully loved this mystery in Jesus that he eventually became a living image of Christ.
Francis knew then what he was to do with his life: to embrace Jesus in the poor and rejected, in those who previously had repulsed him.
The only way I know how to love God is to love what God loves; only then do we love with divine love and allow it to flow through us.
God is like the water of an overflowing fountain, generously showering all of creation with love. Or, God is like the expansive deep oceans that are like the vast depth of God’s faithful love.
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?
The Seer and the Seen
In the CAC online course The Franciscan Way, Father Richard encourages students in the Franciscan mystical practice of respectful gazing:
The word “respect” means “to look at a second time”: Re-speculate. Re-spect. I’m afraid our first gaze at anything is always utilitarian, and it almost totally takes over after a while. We tend to think, “What’s in it for me? What can I get out of it? How can I make money from it? Does this make me look good? Will this give me pleasure?” If we don’t recognize the narrowness and the emptiness of that gaze, it will keep us forever at the center of a very small world.
Mystics like Francis see an equivalence between the seer and the seen. They grant respect to all that is outside of themselves. They allow it to speak. At one of our conferences, we sent some of the attendees down to the Rio Grande. We said, “We want you to find one particular object, not the whole landscape, but one leaf, one twig, one lizard, and grant it respect. Talk to it.” And then, even more daringly, in that state of respect, we asked them to let it talk back. I’m sure that was difficult for educated people. They were probably afraid someone would see them or hear them.
This experience brought people to tears as they finally discovered the “univocity of being,”  and the power of respect. Yet it has to begin from our side. If we maintain our radical egocentricity, then it’s all about us—what we like, what we want, what we think is important. When we can grant respect to seemingly unimportant things, little things, particular things, when we find ourselves giving thanks for one little violet, when we can say, “I’ll bet no human eye will ever look at you except me. And I want to thank God for you, and I want to thank you for simply being you and for allowing me to delight in your purple color” or whatever it might be. Suddenly, our world rearranges because when we can grant respect to one thing, that respect universalizes to all things.
 In the Franciscan tradition, John Duns Scotus developed the concept of the univocity of being. He believed we could speak “with one voice” (univocity) of the being of waters, plants, animals, humans, angels, and God. God is One (Deuteronomy 6:4), and thus reality is also one (Ephesians 4:3–5). All participate in The Story of Being.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Seer and the Seen,” The Franciscan Way (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2012), online course.
Explore Further. . .
- Read and pray “God Loves Things By Becoming Them,” a communal prayer written by CAC staff.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
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.
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.