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Inherent Dignity

Friday, June 9, 2017

Franciscan Spirituality: Week 1

Inherent Dignity
Friday, June 9, 2017

If we look at all the wars of history, we’ll see that God has unwittingly been enlisted on both sides of the fight. It’s easy to wonder what God does when both sides are praying for God’s protection. If I’m to trust Jesus as the archetypal pattern of God’s presence and participation on Earth, I believe God is wherever the suffering is. I believe this because that is precisely what Jesus does. The awakened and aware—like Jesus and Francis of Assisi—go where people are suffering, excluded, expelled, marginalized, and abused. And there they find God. I know that doesn’t sound very churchy or religious. But I look at the lives of Jesus and Francis, the primary people on whose teachings I have built my life, and I gain courage to believe it, because that’s what they did.

Jesus, a quintessential Jew, makes heroes of the outsiders and underdogs in his parables and stories. We can see why the priests didn’t like him. Francis, following Jesus, was also non-exclusionary and a bridge-builder. In 1219, Francis tried to stop the crusaders from attacking Muslims in Damietta. After being captured by Egyptian soldiers, Francis met with Sultan Malik al-Kamil, who also sought peace. [1] Together they talked about prayer, faith, and mystical spirituality. Francis honored and respected the Islamic religion, even before his encounter with the Sultan. In his original Rule, Francis instructed friars who traveled to Muslim lands not to engage in argument or disputes, and to accept local authority, even if it meant making themselves vulnerable. [2] He wanted them to carry the Gospel, not take up crusaders’ weapons. We need such a message today.

Imagine, brothers and sisters, how different Western history and religion could have been if we had walked so tenderly and lovingly upon the earth, as Francis and Jesus did. Imagine what the world would be like if we treated others with inherent and equal dignity and respect, seeing the divine DNA in ourselves and everyone else too—regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, appearance, or social class. Nothing less offers the world any lasting future.

Unfortunately, many people can’t see their own belovedness. If you can’t honor the Divine Indwelling—the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit— within yourself, how could you see it in anybody else? You can’t. All awareness, enlightenment, aliveness, and transformation begins with recognizing that your DNA is divine and unearned as is everyone else’s. This is also a kind of building from the bottom up. Such foundational value moves you from a commodity culture, where everything is bought and sold, to a world of reverence, mutual respect, and love. You realize that life, creation, people, animals, and the earth itself are all imbued with intrinsic worth and are to be respected for their own sake.

Every creature carries the DNA, or Imago Dei, of the Creator, and it shall not be taken from them.

Gateway to Silence:
Who are you, God? And who am I?

[1] See Paul Moses, The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Image: 2009).
[2] Francis of Assisi, “The Earlier Rule” (1209/10), chapter 16. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1999), 74. Francis likely added this chapter to the Rule around 1213.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis, disc 2 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Image credit: Saint Francis of Assisi Is Wed to Lady Poverty (detail), Fresco attributed to Giotto di Bondone, c. 1330, Basilica di San Francesco (lower level, over the altar), Assisi, Italy.
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