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Surrendering Our Superiority

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

The Franciscan Genius: Integration of the Negative

Surrendering Our Superiority
Sunday, June 14, 2015

“You can show your love to others by not wishing that they should be better Christians.” —Francis of Assisi

“We must bear patiently not being good . . . and not being thought good.”  —Francis of Assisi

Yes, the quotes above are correct. The first quote was considered untrue and impossible that Francis would write such a thing, that for centuries the word “not” was deleted from his text. The point seems to have largely been ignored or denied until the very same sentiment was taught in the 19th century by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, as you see in the second quote.

In both quotes, I purposely italicized the word “not” to emphasize that our instinct would have been to do the same. The piously corrected versions provide us with an illusion about our own superiority that very much appeals to the ego, especially the religious ego. Francis’ statement comes out of a highly enlightened awareness and the humility of honest self-observation.

It seems counterintuitive that God uses and finds necessary what we fear, avoid, deny, and deem unworthy. This is what I mean by the “integration of the negative.” I believe this is the core of Jesus’ revolutionary Good News, Paul’s deep experience, and the central insight that guided Francis and Clare with such simple elegance. They made what most would call negative or disadvantage shimmer and shine by their delight in what we ordinarily oppose, deny, and fear—such as being small, poor, or disparaged; being outside the system of power and status; weakness in any form.

The integration of the negative still has the power to create “people who are turning the whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6), as was said of the early Christians gathered at Jason’s house. Now some therapists call this pattern “embracing your shadow,” which makes it into a “golden shadow” with gifts for us to receive. Such surrendering of superiority, or even a need for such superiority, is central to any authentic enlightenment. Without it, we are blind ourselves (John 9:39-41) and blind guides for others.

Gateway to Silence:
We must bear patiently not being good . . . and not being thought good. —Francis of Assisi

Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 101-103

Image credit: Scenes from the Life of Saint Francis: Trial by Fire of St. Francis of Assisi before the Sultan of Egypt (fresco detail), c. 1320, Giotto di Bondone, Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.
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