Learning to See

Franciscan Spirituality: Week 2

Learning to See
Thursday, June 15, 2017

Most religious searches begin with one massive misperception. People tend to start by making a very unfortunate, yet understandable, division between the sacred and the profane worlds. Early stage religion focuses on identifying sacred places, sacred time, and seemingly sacred actions that then leave the overwhelming majority of life unsacred. People are told to look for God in certain special places and in particular events—usually, it seems, ones controlled by the clergy. Perhaps this is related to the clergy’s need for job security, which is only natural. Early stage religion has limited the search for God to a very small field and thus it is largely ineffective—unless people keep seeing and knowing at larger levels.

In Franciscan (and true Christian) mysticism, there is finally no distinction between sacred and profane. The whole universe and all events are sacred, serving as doorways to the divine for those who know how to see. In other words, everything that happens is potentially sacred if we allow it to be. Our job as humans is to make admiration of reality and adoration of God fully conscious and intentional. Then everything is a prayer and an act of adoration. As the French friar Eloi Leclerc (1921-2016) beautifully paraphrased Francis, “If we knew how to adore, then nothing could truly disturb our peace. We would travel through the world with the tranquility of the great rivers. But only if we know how to adore.” [1]

For those who have learned how to see fully, everything—absolutely everything—is “spiritual.” This eventually and ironically leads to what the Lutheran mystic Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) called “religionless Christianity.” [2] Bonhoeffer saw that many people were moving beyond the scaffolding of religion to the underlying and deeper Christian experience itself. Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.

God’s plan is so perfect that even sin, tragedy, and painful deaths are used to bring us to divine union, just as the cross was meant to reveal. God wisely makes the problem itself part of the solution. It is all a matter of learning how to see rightly, fully, and therefore truthfully.

Gateway to Silence:
Help me do what is mine to do.

References:
[1] Eloi Leclerc, The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi, trans. Marie-Louise Johnson (Pasadena, CA: Hope Publishing House: 1992), 72.
[2] Letter from Bonhoeffer to Eberhard Bethge dated April 30, 1944. See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 278-282.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM that which I Am Seeking, disc 1 (CAC: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and
Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 10-11.

Image credit: Saint Francis Mourned by Saint Clare (detail), Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), The Legend of St. Francis, Basilica di San Francesco, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy.
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