Franciscan Way: Part One

September 30th, 2019 by Dave Leave a reply »

Discovering Anew

Sunday, September 29, 2019

St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) was a master of making room for the new and letting go of that which was tired or empty. His first biographer described Francis as always hopeful, always new, always beginning again. [1] Much of Francis’ genius was that he was ready for absolute “newness” from God, and therefore, could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself. His God was not old, so Francis remained forever young. 

In these two weeks of Daily Meditations, I want to share with you one of the most attractive, appealing, and accessible of all frames and doorways to the divine. It is called the Franciscan way after the man who first exemplified it, Francesco di Bernardone, born in Assisi, Italy.

There are always new vocabularies, fresh symbols, new frames and styles, but Francis 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. I would call this mystical insight “the mystery of incarnation,” or the essential union of the material and the spiritual worlds, or simply “Christ.” [2]

Our outer world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness—and holiness. The result is 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 (1194–1253), carried this mystery to its full and lovely conclusion. Or, more rightly, they were fully carried by the mystery. They somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here.

One way to understand Francis and Clare is by reading their lives from what has emerged through their imitators and followers—those who discovered and rediscovered what can only be called radical simplification. Here I am thinking of people like Thérèse of Lisieux, Charles de Foucauld, Dorothy Day, Seraphim of Sarov, Nicholas von der Flüe, Mother Teresa, and, most recently, Pope Francis—to name a few Christian examples. The way of Francis of Assisi cannot be contained inside of formal Franciscanism simply because it is nothing more than the Gospel itself—in very distilled and honest form.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

One World
Monday, September 30, 2019

I hope to show what Francis of Assisi clearly changed and did differently and what flowed from his unique wholeness. We will see that Francis was at once very traditional and entirely new in the ways of holiness—a paradox. He stood barefoot on the earth and yet touched the heavens. He was grounded in the Church and yet instinctively moved toward the cosmos. He lived happily inside the visible and yet both suffered and rejoiced in what others thought was invisible. Francis was at home in two worlds at the same time, and thus he revealed it was all one world.

Like all saints, he delighted in both his Absolute Littleness and his Absolute Connection in the very same moment. Of course, they totally depend on one another. Francis and Clare died into the life that they loved instead of living in fear of any death that could end their life. They were both so very eager to love, and they somehow knew that dying to the old and unneeded was an essential part of living this love at any depth. Most of us do not seem to know that—and resist all change.

Yet Francis’ holiness, like all holiness, was unique and never a copy or mere imitation. In his “Testament,” he said, “No one showed me what I ought to do,” [1] and then, at the very end of his life, he said, “I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours!” [2] What permission, freedom, and space he thus gave to his followers! Bonaventure (1217–1274) echoed that understanding of unique and intimate vocation when he taught, “We are each loved by God in a particular and incomparable way, as in the case of a bride and bridegroom.” [3] Francis and Clare knew that the love God has for each soul is unique and made to order, which is why any “saved” person always feels beloved, chosen, and even “God’s favorite” like so many in the Bible. Divine intimacy is precisely particular and made to order—and thus “intimate.”

Jesus himself, Paul (Jesus’ iconoclastic interpreter), and both Francis and Clare made room for the new by a full willingness to let go of the old. This is quite a rare pattern in the history of formal religion, which is too often a love affair with small and comfortable traditions. Each of these game-changing people had the courage and the clarity to sort out what was perennial wisdom from what was unreal, passing, merely cultural, or even destructive, which is how Jesus described the way “a disciple of the reign of God” behaves. He said that such disciples are “householders who bring out from their household things both old and new” (Matthew 13:52). John the Baptist described Jesus as a “winnowing fan” within religion itself—that separates the grain from the chaff (Matthew 3:12)—instead of just presuming that religion is all “grain” and the outsiders are all “chaff.

Summary: Week Thirty-nine


September 22 – September 27, 2019

When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. (Sunday)

God is the force that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet. (Monday)

The whole thing is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. (Tuesday)

The freeing, good news of the Gospel is that God is saving and redeeming the Whole first and foremost, and we are all caught up in this Cosmic Sweep of Divine Love. (Wednesday)

Oneness is less a goal toward which life is pressing, as it is a return to the truth in which we have always been held. —Catherine T. Nerney (Thursday)

A heart transformed by this realization of oneness knows that only love “in here,” in me, can spot and enjoy love “out there.” (Friday)

Practice: Childlike Sincerity

James Finley, one of our core faculty members, writes:

We have each had a taste of nondual consciousness: the face of our beloved, a child at play, the sound of running water, the intimacy of darkness in the middle of a sleepless night. Our lives move in and out of nondual consciousness. In these moments, we intuitively use the word God for the infinity of the primordial preciousness with Whom we realize ourselves to be one. In these moments we realize that nothing is missing anywhere and what fools we are to worry so.

As I reflect on this, it dawns on me that the root of sorrow is my estrangement from the intimately realized oneness and preciousness of all things. I’m skimming over the surface of the depths of my life. Yet, I know in my heart that the God-given, godly nature of every breath and heartbeat is hidden in the ever-present depths over which I am skimming in my preoccupations with the day’s demands.

So, the question becomes: how can I learn not to play the cynic, not to break faith with my awakened heart? In my most childlike hour, I have tasted the presence of God that is perpetually manifesting and giving itself to me as my very life. While the value of my life is not dependent upon the degree to which I realize this unitive mystery that is always there, the experiential quality of my life is profoundly related to the degree to which I am learning to live in habitual awareness of and fidelity to the God-given, godly nature of the life that I’m living.

I cannot make moments of nondual consciousness happen. I can only assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to be overtaken by the grace of nondual consciousness. Two lovers cannot make moments of oceanic oneness happen, but together they can assume the inner stance that allows them to be overtaken by the oceanic oneness that blesses their life.

My spiritual practice is to sit each day in childlike sincerity with an inner stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by the God-given, godly nature of myself just the way I am. This is my sense of what nondual consciousness is and the contemplative way of life in which we, with God’s grace, become ever more habitually grounded. [1]

For today’s contemplative practice, sit in a comfortable position with the simple intention to be in the Presence of God. With playful, childlike sincerity, offer the least resistance to being overtaken by the God-given, godly nature of yourself—just the way you are. Abide for five or ten minutes or more in this state.

You might want to open your sitting session with this prayer:

O God, give me a simple heart, free from duplicity and deceit, a heart which goes to You with childlike simplicity. [2]


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