Here is yours truly, posing for the painter, a man exceedingly pure by all accounts, summarized succinctly in the saying: "A rising tide floats all boats."
To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders... Such is the case with this lovely mirror of divinity.
Francis is simply beyond comprehension, pushing the limits of human understanding by himself, giving us a much-needed push as humanity. He is so pure, that he appeals to all religions and backgrounds, crossing borders unsurmountable, far beyond his grave.
These are not his biases, they are yours, potentially, and it might help you recognize them, if nothing else. One cannot maintain a state of awareness while being subjected or imprisoned in a worldview delimited by borders called childhood, tradition or past experiences.
The high esteem he had for poverty could be mistaken for archaic, or even an uncivilized, outdated version of Christianity, with no regard for success and material prosperity.
His allegiance to poverty confirms his reality over this world and its pleasures. Thus, he cannot be stained by worldly things or its enticements. He gave everything up, which brought him to a higher dimension and walk with God.
The Good Stuff
Francis lived in the time of the crusades, which were adamant toward acting as God’s holy revenge on Muslims and later also Jews… An army 30.000 strong marched on Constantinople (Istanbul - Turkey today), easily captured it and then did the same with Jerusalem. This was under direct orders from the Pope, which should have supposedly been a role-model for Francis.
However, in spite of the fact that Muslims were considered to be a huge enemy, in 1219, at the height of the conflict, Francis ventured into Muslim territory to visit the caliph of Egypt, which was so impressed by his simple devotion and acute understanding of the divine, that he offered him safe passage on his way back, having been marked by this encounter. Not only did Francis show a different side of Christianity, but he portrayed the correct way, God’s way of reaching others, without falsely taking what we perceive to be God’s judgment (when it’s our own), acting violently on impulse, and calling God to bear the shame for it, for generations to come. (Basically what the crusades did.)
In the eyes of Francis, we don’t pray to acquire a relationship with God as praying to gain something that did not previously exist. Rather, we pray to simply reveal the image of God in which we are created, the God within us, that is, the one in whom we are created and in whom lies the seed of our identity.
We pray so as to discover what we already have—“the incomparable treasure hidden in the field of the world and of the human heart” (Clare of Assisi, Third Letter to Agnes of Prague). We pray not to “ascend” to God but to “give birth to God”—to allow the image in which we are created to become visible.
The God of Francis was: a God “who delights to be with the simple and those rejected by the world” (Thomas of Celano, First Life, 12.31).
As Jesus, Francis draws the entire humanity forward, by simply walking the entire road to the end. Even more simply put: Transformed people transform people.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” — George Bernard Shaw
People are only afraid of death, as long as they do not know who they are. But once you know you are objectively a child of God, you are already home, and your inheritance is given to you ahead of time. Your false self, must die before you die. Only then, can we sincerely say with Francis: Welcome, sister death! I have faced the first death, and I lost nothing that was real, so the second death can do me no harm. (Richard Rohr, Eager to Love)
You do not think yourself into a new way of living, you live yourself into a new way of thinking…
After Francis’s death, Louis the 4th, King of France, embarked on a pilgrimage to visit the holy places of the world. His desire was to see a certain Friar Giles, one of the first companions of Francis, located in Italy. He disguised himself as a commoner, with few companions, arrived at the door of the friary, and asked to see brother Giles. God revealed to friar Giles who the man at the door was, and how He would use him. He quickly ran to the door to meet him.
Without words, they kneeled and embraced each other for a long period of time, as with old friends. After this, King Louis departed, and friar Giles returned to his cell, still without exchanging a word…
Amazed, the companions of brother Giles enquired who his friend was, and upon hearing that it was the King of France, who he never previously met, they were perplexed.
Friar Giles explains:
‘’Dear brothers, marvel not, for neither I to him nor he to me could utter one word, since, no sooner had we embraced each other, than the light of wisdom revealed and manifested his heart to me and mine to him. And thus, by divine power, as we looked in each other’s breasts, we knew better what I would say to him and he to me than if we had spoken with our mouths; and greater consolation had we than if we had sought to explain with our lips what we felt in our hearts. For, because of the defect of human speech, that cannot express clearly the mysteries and secrets of God, words would have left us inconsolable rather than consoled; know, therefore, that the king departed from me marvellously glad and consoled in spirit.’’
Words are merely symbols and the source of real poverty when it comes to communication. They will become your greatest hindrance in prayer, as you develop proficiency. So, should we end the habit of praying with words? Of course not, we should just NOT stop praying when words end...
“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” - Francis of Assisi
Francis understood the value of treading lightly on this earth, portrayed best in a vision he interpreted for brother Leo:
Friar Leo was raptured in a vision and led in spirit to a mighty torrent, wide and raging. As he was observing those crossing it, he noticed them carrying burdens, while entering into the stream. Some made it to the middle, some two-thirds of the way, and few almost reached the shore. However, because of the heavy burdens they were carrying, all were eventually overthrown by the fierce waves and drowned.
Then, he saw another group of people bearing no burdens or load of any kind, and these passed over to the other side without peril.
According to Francis, the burdens are riches and vain acquisitions, anything that brings glory and exalts the self.
Less is more, more or less.
God will acknowledge you in proportion to your capacity to vanish as an end, and remain purely as a means.
“The everlastingness of things - an ironic commentary upon your claims to ownership”. - Dag Hammarskjold
“Some people dread the impossible and then make the mistake of forsaking what is necessary.” - Francis of Assisi
“He who works with his hands is a labourer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” - Francis of Assisi
“The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today” - Francis of Assisi
“For it is in giving that we receive.” - Francis of Assisi
‘’Yearning for a new way will not produce it, only ending the old way will do that. The old will defy the new, the old will deny the new.’’ - Francis of Assisi
“True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.” - Francis of Assisi
“We should seek not so much to pray but to become prayer.” - Francis of Assisi
Not a Boring History
Francis of Assisi lived from 1181 to the age of 45 years old, during which he changed the face of Christianity, impacting not only a generation, but all after him.
Born to a life of riches and pleasure, he pursued a life of intimacy with Christ above all other, begging the question: Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?