It was nearly a half of a year ago when my cousin reminded me of the “Prayer of St. Francis.” Lately, I have been reading it over nearly every day. A monk from the thirteenth century penned something so counter intuitive, so aspirational, so challenging, that I wonder if I can ever truly live it out in my life. It is also seems totally foreign to our culture, especially to our politics and even the church itself.
We don’t need anyone to tell us that we, as a nation, are rather completely tribalized, perhaps more than ever before. That climate makes this prayer seem completely alien, and desperately needed. St. Francis refuses to make the boring binary choice that is combative American politics. He suggests a better way that transcends the tiresome wrangling.
This ancient monk also sees an entirely different and more positive way of attempting to follow Jesus than that which has characterized so much of Christendom in America.
This prayer is like a foul ball that you didn’t see coming and hits you smack in the head. It does not play the game of us and them. It throws the onus back on the reader, the pray-er. That’s why it haunts me. I don’t live up to it. It is completely aspirational. It is not trying to change the government or even the church. It is trying to change me. It’s other worldly. That’s why I have been reading it so much. It is going to take some work to get this into my head and into my heart because it is a proactive “light a candle”, instead of a reactive “curse the darkness” approach. The latter reaction is so much easier, but it never makes things better.
We live in a day, when being a moderate, or even listening to someone with a different perspective, is considered something like treason. Common sense is not common. It is more acceptable to be extreme and radical than to be reasonable. To be kind, compassionate, hopeful, joyous, and understanding stands out like a rare jewel, because it is rare. At the heart of this prayer is “otherliness”, a word coined by a writer friend.
St. Francis is not promoting weakness for it will take more strength to live out this prayer than standing for any knee-jerk tribal position. He is not saying that there is no bedrock of truth. He is not saying that we need let people run over us. He is not saying that we need to be so others- focused that we do not take care of ourselves.
This is not namby-pamby pursuit. It is the most courageous, bad ass way of living we can devote ourselves to.
He gives us some wonderful ideas about how we can live in this world and resemble Jesus by loving one another, and that has always been radical.