One Sacred Universe

Franciscan Spirituality: Week 2

One Sacred Universe
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Often, without moving his lips, [Francis] would meditate within himself and drawing external things within himself, he would lift his spirit to higher things. —Thomas of Celano [1]

Francis of Assisi must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. This is the mystery of incarnation, the essential union of the material and the spiritual worlds—or simply “Christ.”

Our outer world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness—and holiness. The result is both deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty. What was personified in the body of Jesus was a manifestation of this one universal truth: Matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. Perhaps this is exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I am the gate” (John 10:7). Francis and his female companion, Clare, carried this mystery to its full and lovely conclusions. Or, more rightly, they were fully carried by it. They somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here.

All we need is right here and right now—in this world. This is the way to that! Heaven includes earth. Time opens us up to the timeless; space opens us up to spacelessness, if we only take them for the clear doorways that they are. There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments—and it is we alone who desecrate them by our blindness and lack of reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it.

The realization that the concrete opens us up to the universal might be the only fully trustworthy or possible path anyway, because that is how we sensate humans operate. Abstract ideology will not get us very far, and much common religion is ideology more than real encounter with Presence. We all must start with our anecdotal experience, and then build from there. What else can we do? Good spiritual teachers show us how to build from there! Wise people, Scripture, and Tradition point to which experiences are worth looking at and which are perhaps detours or dead ends.

When religion becomes mere ideology (or even mere theology), the rubber never hits the road again. As Pope Francis says, people all over the world are rejecting this top-down form of religion—and they should because this is not the path of Christ himself. Saint and pope show us how to build on a solid foundation of experiential, practical, and very ordinary spirituality.

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

References:
[1] Thomas of Celano, The Second Life of St. Francis, chapter 61. See St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of the Sources, ed. Marion A. Habig (Franciscan Herald Press: 1973), 440. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), xiv, 6-7, 269.

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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