I remember when I was introduced to a person who has been revolutionary to my faith. Yes, obviously Jesus is the most revolutionary, but I am talking about somebody who inspired me to take a look at my life and ask, “How am I following Jesus? Really following Him.” This person is St. Francis of Assisi. I remember being in a university choral class when we were given a piece to sing called “Servants of Peace” by James Quinn and K. Lee Scott, which was based on the Prayer of Peace which has been attributed to the Franciscan tradition (though it is unlikely that Francis was the author). Regardless, where the prayer came from, it definitely reflects Francis’ life and heart, and I began to study his life. The words to the song captivated my imagination.
Lord, make us servants of Your peace:
Where there is hate, may we sow love;
Where there is hurt, may we forgive
Where there is strife, may we make one…
Having just been to LaPaz, Bolivia, two years earlier, I had a shifted paradigm. There I saw poverty much closer to absolute than I had ever seen before, and the return to the U.S. was rough in reconciling what I had experienced with the way of life in my home culture – not to mention that a few months after I was in a severe car accident. The broadened worldview and life perspective left me feeling a bit mixed up through it all. I left the university and moved back to the Arizona mountains (where I came from), and I started serving where I could in a Native American mission school, helping with a church plant on the Navajo Reservation, and starting to teach music. All this time, stories of this person, Francis, were rolling around in the corners of my mind.
I’m not the first one to have their imagination captured by Francis, though. Why? Maybe because there’s something relatable about his experience. He was raised in a wealthy family…well, just about as good as one could hope for in that day and age anyhow. He was a partier and playboy, he could carry a good tune and make some enjoyable music. His compositions would often be reflective of the troubadours of his day – singing of great exploits of knights and battles. He also had dreams. Dreams of being in those great battles. A hero. A victor. Perhaps he was slathered in the same idealism that many of us had when we were younger. Well, like many of ours, his dreams came tumbling down – being wounded and captured in battle, being a prisoner, ransomed by his father, and then returning home and enduring a long illness. Later, he set out as a part of a crusade, but something happened as he began this new adventure. He had a vision where he experienced God telling him to return home and seek His will, but this time when he returned home it was also to the gossip of people saying that he was an deserter. The poor guy just couldn’t catch a break.
Francis started to see the world differently. His conversion, like most of us, was gradual. He started to dream a different dream. A greater dream. Francis heard Jesus calling, so he followed. Ministering to the poor, literally rebuilding a broken down church, metaphorically rebuilding the broken down Church, and along the way people were drawn to his childlike faith lived out with reckless abandon. An answer to the question, “What does it look like to give Jesus everything?”
Later in his journey, eventually the organized church had Francis put structure around his organically grown order of Jesus followers. He laid out 3 vows that were modeled by his life: chastity, poverty, and obedience.
Now, about 22 years after that choir room, I still find myself inspired by Francis. Something he would say has been a motto in my own discipleship journey, and that is:
Start by doing what necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
For me, it’s a continual reminder that obedience often starts with the simple, relational thing that’s right in front of you. God is so much more faithful with our little acts of obedience than we could ever imagine.
Also, in my own life I find that I’m always looking at how to live the Franciscan vows out in my own life. In my context I see them as: purity, simplicity, and obedience. Approaching relationships with purity, without hidden motives, growing in humility, and free of manipulation; pursuing simplicity in the way that I live, whilst in a society that is full of distractions and ‘stuff;’ and always living in pursuit of Jesus, following Him into the hard places of my life and the world – being faithful to do what I hear Him saying. I’m not perfect, or sometimes even good, at these things. But they are like a compass that keeps me pointing in Jesus’ direction, as I step in the barefooted footprints of this character from Italy’s history – who seems to have made home in my imagination.
The Feast of St. Francis is celebrated October 3-4, and I invite you to learn more about this inspirational person in history, who was nicknamed “God’s Jester.”
Chasing Francis: a Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Cron
Francis: the Journey and the Dream by Murray Bodo, O.F.M.
The Little Flowers of Saint Francis trans. Raphael Brown
The Lessons of Saint Francis: How to Bring Simplicity and Spirituality into Your Daily Life by John Michael Talbot with Steve Rabey