Knowing in a “Cellular” Way

Orthopraxy

Knowing in a “Cellular” Way
Thursday, August 27, 2015

One of the earliest accounts of Saint Francis, the “Legend of Perugia,” quotes him as telling the first friars that “You only know as much as you do.” His emphasis on action, practice, and lifestyle was foundational and revolutionary for its time and at the heart of Franciscan alternative orthodoxy (“heterodoxy”). For Francis and Clare, Jesus became someone to actually imitate and not just to worship.

Up to this point, most of Christian spirituality was based in desert asceticism, monastic discipline, theories of prayer, or academic theology, which itself was often founded in “correct belief” or liturgy, but not in a kind of practical Christianity that could be lived in the streets of the world. Many rightly say Francis emphasized an imitation and love of the humanity of Jesus, and not just the worshiping of his divinity. That is a major shift.

Those who have analyzed the writings of Francis have noted that he uses the word doing rather than understanding at a ratio of 175 times to 5. Heart is used 42 times to 1 use of mind. Love is used 23 times as opposed to 12 uses of truth. Mercy is used 26 times while intellect is used only 1 time. This is a very new perspective that is clearly different from (and an antidote to) the verbally argumentative Christianity of his time, and from the highly academic theology that would hold sway from then on. Francis took prayer on the road and into the activity of life itself, which is why the Franciscans popularized the portable, small psalter that we still call the breviary (brevis or short handbook).

Francis and Clare’s approach has been called a “performative spirituality” which means that things are only found to be true in the doing of them. At the level of idea, issues will be forever argued about, because thinking is invariably dualistic. Francis wanted us to know things in an almost “cellular” and energetic way, and not just in our heads. This knowing is a kind of “muscle memory” which only comes from practice.

Gateway to Silence:
“Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart.” —The 14th Dalai Lama

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 81-82, 93.

Image credit: “Legend of St. Francis: St. Francis Giving his Mantle to a Poor Man” (detail of fresco), Giotto de Bondone. San Francesco, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy.

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