Chasing Francis

Re-post from elsewhere in 2008

I just finished reading Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron (as in, within the past hour). It is sending me back into my intense fire for St. Francis (I affectionately call him “Frank”), and with Francis, seeking to fall madly in love with Jesus himself.

I recommend this book. Cron is a first-time novelist; his main job is serving as an Anglican priest in the USA. And while this book may not be one of those masterpieces of English literature with phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that stun you with their beauty or that you want to read aloud as they trickle into your brain, inundating your senses, overwhelming your universe, it has a profundity of a different sort. One of the impressive aspects of the book was when it read as though it were a real pilgrim telling the tale.

But I don’t think Cron was trying to write the Great Twenty-first-Century Novel. He wanted to introduce people to St. Francis, and why God’s Jester (Jongleur de Dieu) is as important and cool and relevant to us in our situation today as he was in the 1200′s.

And Frank is cool.

This is the guy who danced when he met the pope, he was so excited. This is a man who was so serious about peacemaking that he walked into a Muslim city besieged by Crusaders to gain an audience with the Caliph! A bit extreme, but real, genuine, powerful.

When St. Frank preached, he didn’t want merely to produce scholasticism and dry knowledge, dead to lie dormant in the crypt of the mind. He want to blazon the Living Reality of Jesus forth into peoples lives, into their hearts. So he put on the world’s first-ever living Nativity scene. His friars would do crazy, silly stuff, like spit coins out of their mouths into animal dung. If discourse failed, then he would sing. Indeed, this jongleur would take up sticks and pretend he was playing the viol as he danced through the streets singing the songs of the extravagant love of God for a fallen yet beautiful world.

The Canticle of Brother Sun, a version of which I posted as a weekly poem here, is the first recorded poem in the Italian vernacular. The arts remind us of Beauty and the grace of the One who created Beauty, Who transcends all and imbues it with His life, love, and power. The arts can draw us into a world of mystery and mysticism that Lee Strobel never can.

And God, despite the fact that He has chosen to reveal Himself to us, is a vast, beautiful, intensely powerful Mystery. He invites us to enter into the Mystery of Him (this is what mysteries are to be done with), to join in the intimate, ecstatic dance of the Three-in-One, as Father, Son, and Spirit sing the universe into existence.

The world of mystery with a God of power who is also love and holiness and justice and who gives us peace and calls us to care for His good creation — this is an exciting place to live.

And St. Francis wants to draw us into it.

As someone who is part of a church on the verge of explosion, rupture, disintegration, conflagration, and institutional ruin, Francis is calling.

And when I hear his call, there is inevitably another Call, and it is sometimes louder, sometimes gentler than Frank’s.

Listen God is calling,
Through the Word inviting,
Offering forgiveness, comfort, and joy.
An African praise song we sing at Graduate Christian Fellowship

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St. Francis and Why You Like Him

Re-post from elsewhere in 2008.

St. Francis of Assisi by Count Berthold von Imhoff

Despite real, living human beings like one old woman in Chasing Francis who declared in horror, “Isn’t Francis of Assisi a Roman Catholic Saint?” many people love St. Francis, Christian and otherwise. Among the Christians, friends of Francis are found across denominational and theological boundaries, with “Low” and “High” Anglicans loving him, “liberals” and “conservatives” being inspired by him, “evangelicals” and “progressives” chasing him.

So let’s get Francis to cut through all the barriers and labels and help us see what a real Christian looks like!

Ecologists love St. Frank because he was green. He preached to animals and rejoiced in creation, seeing it as a vehicle for the beauty and glory of the Creator. If he were to see what we do to the planet today, he would be shocked and appalled. He would call out for us to stop, to take a look at Sister Earth and her moaning, to see that the majestic trees are our fellow creatures, made by the same loving God! Yes, the earth is ours to till, to use, but not to abuse or destroy! We must be stewards of creation, not overlords.

Evangelistic evangelicals love Francis because he was a gospel preacher before he was a creation-lover. He and his friars would preach to poor that they had to repent, that the Kingdom of Heaven was nigh. They cared about and for the poor spiritually in a time when many reserved the gospel of salvation for the rich and noble. They preached a gospel of the extravagant love of God in an age of hellfire, brimstone, Crusades, and indulgences. St. Frank believed that everyone had a chance of heaven, and he wanted them to have that chance. He loved Jesus and he wanted everyone else to see why Jesus was worth loving.

Social activists love St. Frank because he bathed the lesions of lepers. Once, when the brothers gave him a cloak because it was a cold evening, he gave it to the first freezing beggar that he saw, then proceeded to thank the beggar for giving him this opportunity for generosity. The message of repentance the little brothers brought to the rich and powerful was that of mammon, of money and its grip on life. Sometimes they didn’t use words, and this was effective enough for many rich young men to sell all they had, give to the poor, and go join the little brothers. At other times, if the brothers were at prayer and a rich man rode by in his carriage, one would stand and preach about the evils and money and the deception on wealth while the others continued at prayer.

Mystics love St. Francis of Assisi because he was one. He would spend days in prayer — spontaneously. Once he was walking with some of the brothers and became overcome by an urge to pray. A friend had a place nearby, so they went there, and St. Francis spent the next three days in prayer. Another time, when he and St. Claire were deep in conversation for hours and their spirits were caught up in the heavenlies, the locals ran to the building because it looked like it was aflame. But when they went in, they saw that the light was produced by a gathering of the saints with Francis and Claire. St. Francis had visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as the stigmata. The event that started his ministry was a vision of Christ.

Why do you like St. Francis of Assisi?