The Franciscan Way
Depth, Breadth, and Process
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Saint Francis of Assisi stepped out into a world being recast by the emerging market economy. He lived amid a decaying old order in which his father was greedily buying up the small farms of debtors, moving quickly into the new entrepreneurial class. Francis stepped into a Church that seems to have been largely out of touch with the masses. But he trusted a deeper voice and a bigger truth. He sought one clear center—the Incarnate Jesus—and moved out from there.
Francis understood everything from this personalized reference point. He followed Jesus in at least three clear ways. First, Francis delved into the prayer depths of his own tradition, as opposed to mere religious repetition of old formulas. Second, he sought direction in the mirror of creation itself, as opposed to mental and fabricated ideas or ideals. Third, and most radically, he looked to the underside of his society, to the “community of those who have suffered,” for an understanding of how God transforms us. In other words, he found both depth and breadth—and a process to keep you there.
The depth was an inner life where all shadow, mystery, and paradox were confronted, accepted, and forgiven. Here Francis believed God could be met in fullness and truth. The breadth was the actual world itself, a sacramental universe that is right in front of you and everywhere, as opposed to the ideal, the churchy, or the mental.
Francis showed us the process for staying at the center: entering into the world of human powerlessness. In imitation of Jesus, he chose “poverty” as his honest and truthful lens for seeing everything. Francis set out to read reality through the eyes and authority of those who have “suffered and been rejected”—and come out resurrected. This is the “privileged seeing” of those who have been initiated by life, which allows you to know something that you can know in no other way. It is the true baptism of “fire and Spirit” with which, Jesus says, we must all be baptized (see Mark 10:39). Water baptism is the ritual symbol for the real baptism.
For Francis, first the true “I” had to be discovered and realigned (the prayer journey into the True Self). Then he had to experience himself situated inside of a meaning-filled cosmos (a sacramental universe). Finally, he had to be poor (to be able to read reality from the side of powerlessness).
Gateway to Silence:
“I am who I am in the eyes of God, nothing more and nothing less.” —Francis of Assisi
Adapted from Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety, pp. 4-5