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The Lessons of St. Francis, by John Michael Talbot (with Steve Rabey)

by davesandel on November 6th, 2011

The Lessons of St. Francis, by John Michael Talbot with Steve Rabey, 1997

255 pages

Thoughts on The Lessons of St. Francis:

In 1976 I heard the song “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”  We sang it in the Unification Church, probably not because the church was founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon.  Or … maybe so.  Then I learned to sing the song with my Catholic balloonist friend and boss in Lincoln, Ed Dowling.  By day we sold seed corn, by night …

In 2011 I began attending retreats with the Transforming Community at Marytown, a Franciscan retreat center and monastery in Libertyville, Illinois.  There are statues of Francis, illuminated paintings of his prayers and songs, lots and lots of bird houses and bird feeders and bird baths.  The hospitality there warms my soul.

In 1969, when he was 15, John Michael Talbot and his brother Terry’s second band, Mason Proffit, hit the big time.  Suddenly a little bit wealthy, John bought 25 acres of land near Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  One night after opening for Janis Joplin and watching her drink Southern Comfort like soda pop, John “stopped cold and did some serious thinking.”  He left Mason Proffit in 1973 and eventually became a Secular Franciscan (see quotes from chapter 8).  John used the 25 acres of land he had been unable to sell when he sold everything else to begin building a community he named the Little Portion (Portiuncula in Italian) after the small church Francis made his home a few miles from Assisi.

The community continues to flourish, rebuilt and re-dedicated after a bad fire in 2008.  John wears a brown Franciscan robe and a long, stately, growing-white beard as he crosses the country for his concerts.  He has published 15 books and written many songs, recorded more than 40 albums, won a Dove Award in 1982 for “Light Eternal” and the 1988 Christian Artist of the Year award from Billboard magazine.

In this book his writing is quiet, uncomplicated, welcoming – inviting me to rest and reflect on ancient values and virtues sorted by chapter.  I nearly stopped reading a couple of times, because I felt like I wasn’t reading anything new.  But I’m glad I didn’t.  John Michael clearly loves his spiritual father Francis, and shares many stories about him, rarely bothering to question their veracity.  That itself is charming and made me feel a bit more innocent myself as I read on.

Each chapter ends with several simple suggestions of how to put that particular topic into practice.  Rather than headings, John uses outstanding quotations from many sources to sub-divide most of his chapters.  Many of them are reproduced below.

I think this youtube (which is beautiful) is accompanied by John Michael Talbot.  At least it sure sounds like him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZZFO9F8FWU

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Brother Son and Sister Moon,

I seldom see you, seldom hear your tune

Preoccupied with selfish misery

Brother Wind and Sister Air,

Open my eyes to visions pure and fair

That I may see the glory around me

I am God’s creature, of God I am part;

I feel His love awakening my heart

Brother Sun and Sister Moon,

Now I can see you, now I hear your tune

So much in love with all that I survey 

Outline of The Lessons of St. Francis:

  1. A Tangible Saint
    1. He practiced what he preached
    2. He was real
    3. He was radical
    4. He was loving
    5. He was passionate
    6. He gives us hope
  2. Simplicity
    1. Putting simplicity into practice: Food, clothing, shelter
  3. Joy
    1. Cultivating Joy: Don’t worry about tomorrow, be thankful, be forgiving
  4. Solitude
  5. Humility
  6.  Creativity
  7. Chastity
  8. Community
  9. Compassion
  10. Creation
  11. Service
  12. Peace
  13. Prayer
  14. Francis: His Life and Legacy

 Quotes from The Lessons of St. Francis:

A Tangible Saint

Preach always.  If necessary, use words. – Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. – Prayer of St. Francis

St. Francis walked the world like the Pardon of God. – G. K. Chesterton

Saints are fellow human beings, at once tempted and tried, hugely given over to spiritual passions, insistently intent on realizing them in word, in deed, no matter what the personal consequences. – Robert Coles

Simplicity

Because the friars had nothing, they feared in no way to lose anything. – Thomas of Celano

If we had any possessions we should be forced to have arms to protect them, since possessions are a cause of disputes and strife, and in many ways we should be hindered from loving God and our neighbor.  Therefore, in this life, we wish to have no temporal possessions. – Francis

Less is more. – Robert Browning

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Jesus

Live simply so that others may simply live. – Gandhi

Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires. – Lao-Tzu

Francis and his followers were comforted exceedingly in the absence of all things that are of this world. – Thomas of Celano

Francis’ greatest concern was to be free from everything of this world, lest the serenity of his mind be disturbed even for an hour by the taint of anything that was mere dust. – Thomas of Celano

By practicing simplicity and pruning the tangled branches of our lives, we will be doing two things at once.  First, we will cut back the areas of our lives that have grown wildly out of control and threaten to kill us or drive us crazy.  And second, we will channel our future growth toward a simpler approach to living that will leave us less subject to future headaches and heartaches. – p. 26

Fasting is something members of our community do twice a week, thus reaping a windfall of physical and spiritual benefits.  We find that fasting on bread and water is a wonderful discipline which teaches us the difference between wants and needs while allowing us to empathize with the hunger of the poor. – p. 28

All the poor friars must wear poor clothes and they can patch them with pieces of sackcloth and other material, with God’s blessing. – Rule of St. Francis

One goes more quickly to heaven from a hut than from a palace. – Francis

Many of us are so busy that we accomplish little of any real value.  We are so consumed by our many possessions that we never experience what it means to have much.  Many of us spend less time with our families, or with God, than did primitive hunter-gatherers who lived lives of subsistence and daily survival. – p. 34

Joy

The safest remedy against the thousand snares and wiles of the enemy is spiritual joy. – Francis

Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to – a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation.  Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it. – Frederick Buechner

Receive poverty, want, sickness, and all miseries joyfully from the hand of God, and with equal joy receive consolation, refreshment, and all super-abundance. – Macarius the elder

Jesus said not: thou shalt not be troubled, thou shalt not be tempted, thou shalt not be distressed.  But he said: thou shalt not be overcome. – Julian of Norwich

I don’t envy those who have never known any pain, physical or spiritual, because I strongly suspect that only those who have suffered great pain are able to know equally great joy. – Madeleine L’Engle

Restless are our hearts until they rest in thee. – St. Augustine

A saint was once asked, while playing happily with his companions, what he would do if an angel told him that in a quarter of an hour he would die and have to appear before the judgment seat of god.  The saint promptly replied that he would continue playing because I am certain these games are pleasing to God. – St. John Bosco

Let your understanding strengthen your patience.  In serenity look forward to the joy that follows sadness. – St. Peter Damian

True joy is the earnest wish we have of heaven, it is a treasure of the soul, and therefore should be laid in a safe place, and nothing in this world is safe to place it in. – John Donne

 Solitude

We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen … We choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen.  It is simply there to fill the vacuum.  When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Contemplation is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love. – St. John of the Cross

A loss of silence is as serious as a loss of memory and just as disorienting.  Silence is, after all, the natural context from which we listen.  Silence is also the natural context from which we speak. – Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

If you have never, all alone, tried to define your major convictions, you cannot enter into truth-seeking conversation and are thus incapable of deep human relations.  If you cannot be apart from others, you cannot engage in prayer and meditation and thus cannot enter into genuine relationship with God.  If you recoil from solitude, it may even be said, you are politically disabled; you necessarily lack the spirit of independence needed to stand for what is right in the public realm. –  Glenn Tinder

Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. – Thomas Merton

No one can approach God without withdrawing from the world. –  St. Isaak of Syria

Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world, which passes like a shadow.  Do not let the false delights of a deceptive world deceive you. – St. Clare of Assisi

In our culture, time can seem like an enemy: It chews us up and spits us out with appalling ease.  But the monastic perspective welcomes time as a gift from God, and seeks to put it to good use, rather than allowing us to be used up by it. – Kathleen Norris

The soul that is growing in holiness is the least lonely when it is most alone. – Father Andrew

Humility

Brother Francis, the least of your servants, worthless and sinful, sends greetings. – Francis

The gate of Heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it. – St. Elizabeth Seton

The only way to make rapid progress along the path of divine love is to remain very little and put all our trust in Almighty God. – St. Thérèse of Lisieux

If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is still humility.  Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts are fruitless. – St. Augustine

What was the life of Christ but a perpetual humiliation? – St. Vincent de Paul

I find the doing of the will of god leaves me no time for disputing about His plans. – George MacDonald

A humble man is never hurried, hasty or perturbed, but at all times remains calm.  Nothing can ever surprise, disturb or dismay him, for he suffers neither fear nor change in tribulations, neither surprise nor elation in enjoyment.  All his joy and gladness are in what is pleasing to the Lord. – St. Isaak of Syria

Creativity

Francis sought occasion to love God in everything.  In everything beautiful, he saw him who is beauty himself. – St. Bonaventure

Creativity is a little like opening the gate at the top of a field irrigation system.  Once we remove the blocks, the flow moves in. – Julia Cameron

Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit. – Johann Sebastian Bach

Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen?  Chance favors only the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur

Men are like trees; each one must put forth the leaf that is created in him. – Henry Ward Beecher

Chastity

Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst. – Frederick Buechner

A heavenly love can be as real as an earthly love. – G. K. Chesterton

You would think, wouldn’t you, that a faith founded on the premise of incarnation – of the Word-that-speaks-all-into-being made flesh to dwell among us – would hold in certain respect, perhaps in outright reverence, the body, the very form in which the divine had elected to be housed. – Nancy Mairs

Like nitroglycerin, sex can be used either to blow up bridges or heal hearts. – Frederick Buechner

Community

When a tree grows by itself it spreads out, but does not grow tall.  When trees grow together in the forest, they help push each other up towards the sun. – Buddhist monastic saying

In community, people such as myself (Talbot) burrow deep in the fertile soil of fraternity, which allows us to uncover our deep selves and strengthen our faith. – p. 132

In 1221 Francis founded the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, later known as the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, or the Secular Franciscans. – p. 134 (This order continues to exist.  Notable members, besides John Michael Talbot, have been Joan of Arc, John Duns Scotus, Dante, Giotto, Raphael, Michelangelo, Christopher Columbus, St. Thomas More, Franz List, and Louis Pasteur.)

Let the tongue that poured out the poison of anger upon my brother eat dung. – Francis

Compassion

Everything people leave after them in this world is lost, but for their charity and almsgiving they will receive a reward from God. – Francis

By compassion we make others misery our own. – Sir Thomas Browne

Sinners are led back to God by holy meekness better than by cruel scolding. – Francis

Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you too. – Frederick Buechner

About the only people Francis couldn’t love were those who scorned and ridiculed the poor and oppressed.  “He bore it very ill if he saw a poor person reproached or if he heard a curse hurled upon any creature by one,” wrote Thomas of Celano.  “He transferred to himself the afflictions of all who were sick.” – p. 157

(On the other hand) Francis forbade his brothers to look down on the rich … And even though he preached a message of spiritual passion and purity, he honored and respected sinful and hypocritical priests, whom he upheld as servants of God.” – p. 158

If we don’t accept Jesus in one another, we will not be able to give Him to others. – Mother Teresa

Francis overflowed with tender compassion even for animals, because to some extent he had returned to the state of innocence. – St. Bonaventure

Love does not give money, it gives itself.  If it gives itself first and a lot of money too, that is all the better.  But first it must sacrifice itself. – Thomas Merton

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

We can never love our neighbor too much.  There is nothing small in the service of God. – St. Francis de Sales

I’m repeatedly struck by the fact Francis couldn’t be truly compassionate until he confronted his abhorrence of lepers.  Prior to kissing the leper on the road, Francis was bound-up, self-contained, and compassion-challenged.  But with God’s help he was able to love that leper.  The rest came naturally … What about it?  What protective barriers have you erected around your life to keep you from seeing the pain of others, hearing their cries of need, or reaching out to them in love and blessing?  Who are the lepers you need to reach out to? – p. 162-163

You should bear patiently the bad temper of other people, the slights, the rudeness that may be offered you. – St. John Bosco

Forgiveness is a way of saying, “You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us.  Both my pride and my principles demand no less.  However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done and though we both may carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us.  I still want you for my friend.” – Frederick Buechner

Forgiveness simply means getting down off the seat of judgment and releasing those who have offended you from your own hostility and anger. (And while you’re at it, ask God to forgive you for the ways you’ve let down him and others. – p. 165-166

Freed by forgiveness and energized by love, you can be a channel of charity, compassion and grace in a hard and needy world.

Creation

Every creature in heaven and on earth and in the depths of the sea should give God praise and glory and honor and blessing. – Francis

My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you.  God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part (from his sermon to the birds). – Francis

Thomas of Celano records that the birds stretched their necks and extended their wings as Francis walked among them touching and blessing them.  This event was a turning point of sorts for Francis.  “He began to blame himself for negligence in not having preached to the birds before” and “from that day on, he solicitously admonished all birds, all animals and reptiles, and even creatures that have no feeling, to praise and love their Creator.” –p. 169-170

If God made it, Francis adored it.  All created things were a part of God’s big family, and through the adoration of all things God had made, Francis felt an exhilaration that was both rooted and soaring, both worldly and spiritual. – p. 172

It’s important to treat animals well.  It is the hallmark of our entire society.  If we treat animals badly, we probably treat each other badly. – Roger Caras

We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do. – Statement, 1972 Stockholm Environmental Conference

Francis befriended the mice that ran through the sleeping area he shared with his friars, developed a mutually beneficial relationship with a falcon who woke Francis for prayer every night, and provided shelter to a cicada who joined him in singing God’s praises for a week. – p. 174-175

Once when his drawers caught fire, Francis stopped a brother who had rushed to put them out: “No, my dearest brother, don’t harm our Brother Fire.” – p. 175

If you wish to know the Divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand. – Buddha

Even though Francis wasn’t a vegetarian, he did refuse to eat lamb meat.  “God forbid,” he said.  But he did enjoy wearing lamb’s wool (at least until he gave his clothing away to someone more needy). – p. 177

Francis urged all of creation to follow God in its own unique fashion: “In the same way he exhorted with the sincerest purity cornfields and vineyards, stones and forests and all the beautiful things of the gardens, earth and fire, air and wind, to love God and serve him willingly.” – p. 177-178

I am a passenger on the spaceship earth. – R. Buckminster Fuller

Service

The history of Western monasticism can be divided into two distinct periods: pro-Francis and post-Francis … Francis struck a radically new balance between solitude and service, between separation from the world and intense dedication to it, between silent contemplation and active involvement in the messy hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Francis found his inspiration in the life of Jesus. – p. 187

Preach always.  If necessary, use words.  There is no better sermon than the practice of the virtues. – Francis

The free life was not, as some thought, a selfish life, for to be free was to be totally available. – Father Murray Bodo

No matter where they are, the friars must always remember that they have given themselves up completely and handed over their whole selves to our Lord Jesus Christ, and so they should be prepared to expose themselves to every enemy, visible or invisible, for love of him. – Francis

If everyone would take only according to his needs and would leave the surplus to the needy, no one would be rich, no one poor, no one in misery. – St. Basil

Francis’ answer to the eternal dilemma of evil was both profound and practical, and it can be summarized in four simple words: We are God’s hands. – p. 196

A brother asked God, “Why do you allow poverty?” After a long silence, God answered the brother with a still, small voice that shook his soul: “Why do you allow poverty?” – p. 197

Francis was asked, “Who are the true children of God?  He answered, “We are his brothers when we do the will of his Father who is in heaven; and we are mothers to him when we enthrone him in our hearts and souls by love with a pure and sincere conscience, and give him birth by doing good.”  The concept that I give birth to God by doing good is a challenge to my soul. – p. 197

One of the most revealing snapshots of Francis’ approach toward servant leadership is found in one brief sentence in the Legend of Perugia that’s easy to miss amid all the accounts of the saint’s wonderful deeds.  But there it is, hidden in a description of Francis’ practice of traveling and preaching in churches: “He brought along a broom to clean the churches.” – p. 199-200

Hell has three gates: lust, anger, and greed. – Bhagavad Gita

The necessity of service isn’t something Francis or I made up.  Rather, I think of it as one of the moral laws of the universe. – p. 202

Peace

We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way. – Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love,

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. – Francis

First keep peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others. – Thomas à Kempis

Into the midst of the horror and hatred of the Crusades, Francis crossed enemy lines during the Fifth Crusade near Damietta, Egypt, risking his life in the hopes that he could have a personal audience with Melek el-Khamil, the sultan of Babylon, whom he hoped to convert to Christianity – not with weapons but with words.  As G. K. Chesterton put it, Francis followed this simple maxim: “It is better to create Christians than to destroy Moslems.”  Though the sultan remained a committed Muslim, he did develop an affection for Francis – the kind of affection that reportedly led him to remark that if there were more Christians like Francis, he’d consider becoming one. – p. 215

Give to every other human being every right that you claim yourself. – Robert G. Ingersoll

Proclaim the word of God openly.  And avoid quarrels or disputes and be subject to every human creature for God’s sake. – Francis

If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things inside yourself, not in another. – Gandhi

What fills your heart: peace or turmoil?  Grace or anger?  What if we performed open-heart surgery on you right now?  What would we find? – p. 220

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you become vulnerable to further injury; quite the contrary, you become vulnerable to love and mercy, which are two pre-requisites for sowing peace in the world. – p. 221

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. – Jesus

Maybe there are people in your life who try to hurt and harass you.  Don’t give in to them, but don’t give up on them either. – p. 222

It’s a sure thing that some people are never going to be persuaded to your point of view, no matter how right you are or how eloquently or passionately you drive home your point.  Instead of fighting to the bitter end, agree to disagree. – p. 222

Tense situation.  Hot tempers.  Hurt feelings.  Calm your heart, still your mind, and begin breathing slowly as you pray for peace.  Make each breath a prayer.  As you inhale and exhale, meditate on the grace and love of God.  When I do that, I find that my heart rate slows down and I am filled with an inner calm that allows me to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world. – p. 222

Prayer

Let us be ashamed to be caught up by worthless imaginings, for at the time of prayer we speak to the great King. – Francis

Everything that one turns in the direction of God is a prayer. – St. Ignatius Loyola

There’s no comparing cold, intellectual facts that you have gathered about someone to intimate, life-changing experiences you have gone through with someone.  This simple difference between knowing about and knowing is a fundamental part of the way Francis related to God … He wanted to be deeply and madly in love with God.  And that’s what he would want for you and me, too. – p. 228

The more we love God, the more we will want to love him. – St. Joaquina

I’ve read hundreds of books about God by everybody from Christian friars to Buddhist monks.  Surprisingly, when people from diverse faiths talk about prayer, they all sound much alike. – p. 228

I want my friars to pray more than to read, according to the example of my Lord Jesus Christ. – Francis

Silence is a gift of God, to let us speak more intimately with God. – St. Vincent Pallotti

God’s love for us is pure, passionate, selfless, and relentless.  It’s a love that allows us the freedom to accept it or reject it, for God would never manipulate or overrule our wills.  But if we accept that love, it brings ecstasy and rapture.  Trying to contain God’s overwhelming love for us is like trying to hold the ocean in a thimble. – p. 230-231

After a period of time in which we have come to know more about God through study, meditation, and the speaking of words, we begin to experience God through the touch of mystical union.  In Franciscan Monasticism Brother Boniface Mae writes, “The grace of God sometimes overflows like a river and invades the emotional power of the soul … there follows spiritual intoxication, which is a breaking out of overwhelming tenderness and delicious intimacies greater than the heart can desire or contain.” – p. 232

This kind of mystical contemplation is beyond anything we can define or describe, just as it’s impossible to describe the euphoria of sexual union.  It can’t be manipulated, and we can’t manufacture it on command.  We can only set the stage and wait for it to happen, by God’s grace. – p. 232

The first time I have felt this touch of God’s spirit was at the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in Kentucky.  I found myself bounding down secluded paths, singing loud praises to God, and inviting all of creation to join in with me.  I sang with the birds.  I sang with the spring flowers.  I do not remember the songs I sang, but I am sure God enjoyed them as my greatest works of art. – p. 232

Let us learn to cast our hearts into God. –  St. Bernard

Francis founded two dozen hermitages during his life, creating havens for intense spiritual intimacy all over the Italian countryside.  He put these within easy walking distance of nearby cities, so his friars could practice the balancing act between solitary intimacy with God and selfless service to God’s people … But it was clear to Francis that it was the time alone with God that made the periods of service meaningful and productive. – p. 233-234

In God alone there is primordial and true delight, and in all our delights it is this delight that we are seeking. – St. Bonaventure

Francis’ friars frequently followed him, observing him from a safe distance the way students might follow a beloved teacher to see what he’s like once he’s outside the classroom … When the saint was alone in prayer, he would give free rein to his emotions: laughing one minute and crying the next, singing mystical love songs in French at the top of his lungs one instant, and praying in hushed silence the next.  – p. 234

By the time Francis was 43, near the end of his life, his infirmities kept him from ministering in public as much as he would like, which meant he got to spend more time alone with god.  As the early biographies unanimously report, during one of these periods of prayer, Francis was meditating on Christ’s brutal death on the cross and praying that his life would imitate the life of Jesus in every way when he was visited by God in a unique and powerful way.  As he prayed, an angel visited the saint and left on his hands, feet, and side the same wounds Christ received on the cross. – p. 235-236

The church has only very rarely accepted reports of these marks, called stigmata, over the centuries.  This small number includes the case of Francis, who bore the scars until his death. – p. 236

Both Jesus and Francis drew strength from intense periods of spiritual isolation prior to engaging in tireless and selfless work in the world … Prayer became a method of allowing God to recharge their spiritual batteries for loving others. … These were prayers of searching, submission and dependence rather than shopping lists.  They went to God straining to hear that still, small voice, seeking to understand what God wanted them to do, and when, and where! – p. 236-237

Contemplative prayer is described by saints as a form of communion with God which is the highest form of prayer one can know … beyond words, beyond ideas, beyond emotion, and beyond form. St. Bonaventure said, “If you wish to know how such things come about, consult grace, not doctrine; desire, not understanding; prayerful groaning, not studious reading; God, not man.” – p. 238

I believe Francis would be disappointed if this chapter were merely a theoretical discourse on prayer.  Here I am, like some beach-bound swim instructor describing the breast stroke.  Meanwhile, Francis has stripped off his robe and jumped into the ocean, where he waves his hands and hollers, “Come on in!  The water’s fine!” – p. 238

Some lessons I have learned about prayer:

1) Make the time and find a place

2) Follow the examples of others who have learned the discipline of prayer.  Learn and practice the Lord’s Prayer and use it as a jumping-off point for your own prayers.  Pray the Psalms.  One of the oldest and simplest prayers in the Christian tradition is the “Jesus Prayer”: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  This prayer has been prayed for centuries all over the world in every language, and it’s easy to say in sync with a breathing exercise as a way of involving your body in the prayer.

3) Remember to thank God.  For what you’ve already been given.  Try this: write down everything you want from God on a piece of paper.  Then ball up the paper an throw it away – or if you have a candle where you pray, burn it.  Get rid of your own agenda, and make prayer a time when you can learn God’s agenda.

4) Pray without ceasing … you can say a brief prayer when you first wake up, while you shower and get dressed, while you drive, when you lay your head back on the pillow at night.

5) Franciscan mysticism balances mind and heart, studying about God and knowing God personally.  Use what you learn as a grid through which you evaluate the things you receive in prayer.  Two of my books The Lover and the Beloved and The Fire of God can tell you much more about saints through the ages have said about communing with God.

6) Practice the disciplines of prayer.  Learn to endure in prayer and develop an evermore intimate relationship with God.

7) Pray with others.  For centuries people of faith have sought the encouragement and sustenance that comes from brothers and sisters praying alongside them.

8) Take advantage of aids to prayer … many religions use a set of beads like the Roman Catholic rosary.  Much older is the practice of praying to the Stations of the Cross, which represent fourteen scenes of Christ’s passion.  Nearly every Catholic church offers those places to pray, represented by paintings or sculpture.

9) Finally, do not be afraid.  Jump in.  The water really is fine.  Stick in your toe, and then submerge yourself in God’s deep, deep love. – p. 238-241

Francis: His Life and Legacy

Instead of having a pew or plaque in one church in his home town of Assisi, Francis now has thousands of churches, hospitals, and religious organizations dedicated to his honor … Franciscans make up the largest of the Catholic Church’s many religious families. – p. 244

In 1181 (or 1182) Francis was born and named Giovanni by his mother, but then renamed Francis by his father as he returned home from a business trip to France.  As a twenty-something he “squandered and wasted his time miserably,” was “vain and proud,” and often selected as the “master of revels.”  He sought out the glory of soldiering, was captured and imprisoned for a year, finally ransomed by his rich father.

On the way to war for a second time, he had a vision which caused him to turn around and return home ill and disoriented.  Francis began to lose his taste for business and became increasingly hungry for spiritual things, dismaying his father and intriguing his mother.

He stopped in small, run-down chapel to pray.  Francis heard the voice of Jesus coming from a nearby crucifix, “Repair my house.”  He took this literally and begged for stones.  The people in Assisi cursed him, mocked him, and called him crazy.  His father Pietro was ashamed.  Francis took some of his father’s expensive cloth and sold it for building materials.  Pietro responded by confining him for a month in a closet in the family home.  When his father left on a trip, his mother released him.  Then Pietro brought him before a local bishop, where Francis stripped off his clothing and handed it to his father.

Separated from wealth, family, and social esteem, Francis was now free to devote himself to prayer.  One day he saw a leper on the road.  Francis “naturally abhorred” lepers, but when he reached out for a coin, Francis reached out and kissed him.  This changed things for Francis; channels of spiritual energy opened within him.  He began hanging around with lepers, living in their communities, caring for them, nursing their sores.

Soon Francis had his own twelve followers.  He and his handful visited the pope, talking of his literal interpretation of the Gospel: “Sell what you have, take nothing with you, take up your cross.  Follow me.”  The pope gave his tentative approval.  Francis divided his friars up and sent them out two by two; soon there were a thousand, then five thousand.  They gathered once a year for joyous assemblies.

Clare, the daughter of an aristocratic family, became the first woman to join the movement, found the Poor Clares, a mystical order devoted to solitude and prayer.  Francis also formed his “Third Order” of secular Franciscans.

Francis died in 1226 at the age of 45.  When near death he “had himself placed naked upon the naked ground.”  None of the men and women called saints by the Catholic Church has been so universally adored as Francis, a man historian Sir Kenneth Clark called a “religious genius – the greatest, I believe, that Europe has ever produced.”

A writer for Look magazine called Francis “a bearded, barefoot, slightly prankish, and largely unfathomable man.”  G. K. Chesterton described him best: “St. Francis walked the world like the Pardon of God.” – p. 245-251

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