St. Francis of Assissi Meditation and Icon by Bill Robinson

 
  • Meditations on the ministry of St. Francis
    As an artist, an iconographer, and farmer, it has always bothered me that most artistic
    images of St. Francis of Assisi depict him as sweetly bucolic, praying before rose covered
    crosses and preaching to the birdies when, in fact, his whole life consisted of constantly
    violating the rules of his day. Why? Because he believed in the Gospels so intensely that
    he thought that Jesus’ mandate to love was a higher law than all the combined rules of
    society, culture, or of religion. And he also did his level best to follow the example of
    Jesus regardless of the personal cost. Francis was a radical and a rule breaker of the first
    magnitude.
    Rules probably originated to help insure the connectedness of a tribe or society. To
    connect one had to be accepted, and the measure of acceptance was to follow the rules.
    Therefore, Rule #1 is to “follow the rules.’ This rule is universal and ancient. In the
    Judeo-Christian tradition it dates back to Eden. Adam and Eve lost both acceptance and
    connection for a rule violation. Rule #2 would seem to be “don’t question the rules”.
    Questioning the rules in most societies, cultures, and religions seems to cause the same
    loss of connection and acceptance as breaking Rule #1.
    Rule #3 is “if rules conflict, the higher rule prevails.” This is probably a holdover from
    the days of kings, but this concept was important in Francis’ day and is still reflected in
    our own court system and our contemporary culture. How many levels of courts do we
    have in the United States? How many cases hinge on the interpretation of a rule? Even
    the outcome of sporting events can be decided by a rule!
    With this line of thinking so deeply ingrained in our psyches, it should come as no
    surprise that the way most of us try to connect with God follows the exact same model:
    Connection with God (salvation) is perceived as a personal responsibility requiring great
    knowledge (learning all the rules) and great discipline (following the rules). Yes, we are
    told of God’s grace and God’s love, but those are many times regarded as intellectual
    concepts with very little bearing on how we live out our lives. Like the Pharisees of
    Jesus’ time we tend to worship the rules.
    In 12
    th
    century Assisi and even more so today, even the Church itself seems to be hung up
    on the rules. If you look at the “hot” agenda items at almost any General Convention of
    the Episcopal Church over the past hundred or so years, you will see mostly arguments
    over the rules—particularly rules regarding acceptance and inclusion: Should we have
    human slavery? Do women have souls? Can we revise the BCP? Can women be
    priests? bishops? Can a divorced person re-marry? Can a gay priest be a bishop?
    Both Jesus and Francis dealt with the same kinds of issues, all of which can be boiled
    down to one question: Can people we don’t like or who don’t agree with us be thrown
    out of the garden?
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  • Francis’ answer to this question was to invoke rule #3—the higher rule—and here’s how
    it worked for him: “God’s rule is to love. Since God is greater than us, God’s love must
    be bigger than our love. Any of us can love those that the rules permit us to love, yet
    God loves them too. Therefore we need to expand the parameters of love to love the
    unlovable! In doing so we come closer to God”. And this is what he did. Francis loved
    the poor by voluntarily becoming poor himself, and in doing so put poverty in a whole
    new light. He called for peace in a time when even the church was calling for Crusades
    and war. And he brought a radical reading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that depoliticizes
    our understanding of conversion even to this day. And like Jesus before him, Francis
    went out of his way to love those that society had ruled to be unlovable.
    This is what God said to Francis—and what God is saying to us every day:
    “I want to be in relationship with you.
    Can you expand the parameters of love beyond the rules that bind you?
    Can you teach this love to all my children by how you live your life?
    Can you connect with my whole family?
    How much can you love?
    Those are my rules”
     
    Bill
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  •  
  • Francis’ answer to this question was to invoke rule #3—the higher rule—and here’s how
    it worked for him: “God’s rule is to love. Since God is greater than us, God’s love must
    be bigger than our love. Any of us can love those that the rules permit us to love, yet
    God loves them too. Therefore we need to expand the parameters of love to love the
    unlovable! In doing so we come closer to God”. And this is what he did. Francis loved
    the poor by voluntarily becoming poor himself, and in doing so put poverty in a whole
    new light. He called for peace in a time when even the church was calling for Crusades
    and war. And he brought a radical reading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that depoliticizes
    our understanding of conversion even to this day. And like Jesus before him, Francis
    went out of his way to love those that society had ruled to be unlovable.
    This is what God said to Francis—and what God is saying to us every day:
    “I want to be in relationship with you.
    Can you expand the parameters of love beyond the rules that bind you?
    Can you teach this love to all my children by how you live your life?
    Can you connect with my whole family?
    How much can you love?
    Those are my rules”
     
    Bill
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Last modified on Saturday, 05 October 2019 18:55

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