Poets & Saints: The Life and Faith of St. Francis of Assisi
Excerpted from Poets and Saints: Eternal Insight. Extravagant Love. Ordinary People., companion book to All Sons & Daughters' album, Poets & Saints):
The fourth crusade called for soldiers, and once again, with about eight other men from Assisi, Francis galloped off to pursue the romance of battle. Not farther than a day's ride from town, he became ill and fell behind. Alone on his trotting horse, he was surprised to hear a voice.
"Who can do more good for you, the lord or the servant?"
A bit delirious and unsure where the voice was coming from, Francis answered, "The lord, of course!" He didn't have God in mind, however, but a powerful man, such as a landowner or noble.
A follow-up question resonated in the quiet countryside: "Then why are you abandoning the lord for the servant?"
As Francis rode along contemplating these words, his thinking shifted. He finally realized that this was the voice of God and that "the lord" this voice spoke of was the Son of God. Francis immediately turned his horse around and headed back to Assisi. In the face of potential embarrassment, he rode through the familiar streets and retired to his home. Removing his beloved suit of armor, Francis began wrestling with his experience on the road and its deeper meaning.
Six months later, news arrived in town. The region's entire army had been ambushed and massacred. Had Francis remained with his comrades, he would have been killed. Lost in a quandary over life's purpose and preoccupied with the needs of the poor, Francis found that his exploits with friends no longer held pleasure. He determined that unlike his tendencies in the past, he would never again refuse a man who asked something of him, whether time or possessions.
Francis became progressively attuned to the needs of those around him. Through this growing empathy and compassion, he was getting to know the heart of God. He was accepting his inadequacy to perform perfectly and recognizing that salvation was found in Christ alone.
There is so much from Francis's life to draw inspiration from. This sea- son of his life is deeply revealing and, I believe, apropos for the church in our current Western culture. We haven't been called to fix people and teach them to cope. God has called us to love them in their brokenness and invite and nudge them toward the great Redeemer. By serving those in great need, Francis learned to have a heart of compassion. When we're involved in the grit of people's brokenness, we quickly learn that their physical and emotional conditions don't change overnight. For most of us, our spiritual awakening and maturation require time.
Francis was experiencing conversion, a process peppered with experiences that would bring him closer and closer to God. His encounter with a leper solidified his yearning to know the Creator. At that time, people suffering from leprosy, the bacterial disease that deteriorates the flesh and often causes a loss of limbs, were regarded as social outcasts and were ordered to remain on the fringes of society. Subjected to life in isolated communities, when they emerged, lepers were forced to shake rattles to warn others of their approach. These ailing, disfigured pariahs had repulsed and offended Francis all his life. But this day, walking along the road, when Francis heard the rattling sound and saw a leper walk toward him, he felt a lump rise in his throat. Yet he was compelled not to run the other way or ignore the man but to go to him.
I imagine he swallowed hard and suppressed his nausea before approaching the leper, who was probably shaking his rattle like a mad- man at that point. When Francis got close enough to the maimed fellow, he grabbed the man's hands and kissed them. Then he placed in those mangled hands what few coins he had. The leper limped away astounded, shaking his head in disbelief as a cloud of dust trailed behind. What had just happened was incomprehensible. Someone came close. Someone touched me.
When nothing is foreign to us nobody will be foreign to us—and our words will begin to heal others. - Ronald Rolheiser
In that moment, when Francis walked headlong into such an aversion, into a place where he felt fear and disgust, he was transformed. The Spirit of God poured through him with a renewed and profound love.
The process of conversion happened in Francis's heart over the course of time. Through his experience in the dungeon, through hearing the voice on the road, through his attraction to serving the poor, through his time rebuilding the church, through standing up to his father, Francis was being transformed. He was finding Jesus and renouncing himself.
Though Francis was discovering exuberant happiness, as life teaches us all, happiness isn't sustainable.
Francis experienced this certitude in its fullest extent. The day he danced for twenty miles barefoot in the snow to another city, he was left with nowhere to go. Prepared to embrace a life of extreme poverty, he assumed the local monastery would be a welcoming place. Hungry and freezing, Francis knocked on the front door. He received only alms and was treated rudely. Francis's joy was met with a proverbial bucket of cold water. Or, in this case, an evening spent in a snow bank.
Isn't this like us?
We find ourselves on a mountaintop. Experiencing intimacy with God. Closeness with the Divine.
Then we get sucker punched.
Betrayal, shame, addiction, brokenness, distraction, failure, disappointment—something knocks us down. We tumble from the peak and lie in a heap in the valley. Sprawled on our backs, we stare at the sky, somehow forgetting the moments of euphoria we just experienced, and we wonder with tears in our eyes if we'll ever get back to that wonderful place again.
The human condition. Fickle and fleeting. The goodness of God. Patient and persevering.
It would be nice to note that in Francis's story, his father came around and eventually supported his son. He didn't.
Nonetheless, Francis pushed through. His love for his heavenly Father became all-consuming.
Assisi became the nerve center of his ministry. The playboy who had previously spent his nights partying in the city streets, now, having given everything away, walked them with compassion.
Check out All Sons & Daughters' lyric video for "I Surrender" (inspired by St. Francis of Assisi):
© 2016 Jamie George. Poets and Saints: Eternal Insight. Extravagant Love. Ordinary People. is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.