Eager to Love.
I’ve been reading this book slowly over the past six months. It could be read in an hour or two if you wish. Each little dose inpsires me to live the Gospel more radically.
Last night Paris suffered its deadliest terrorist attack and so I want to offer this extended quote from Richard Rhor’s work which ends with his own hope for those who read it.
I add some bits in bold: my own reactions.
WHAT FRANCIS DID
Francis left his own culture at “great cost”to himself to go to the Sultan, to enter the world of another—and one who was considered a public enemy of his world and religion. He seems to have tried three times, but only succeeded in getting fully to his goal on the third try. This third time, he went to Egypt primarily to tell his own Christian troops that they were wrong in what they were doing (that is, in fighting the Fifth Crusade preached by Pope Innocent III and other Catholic leaders). Francis warned that the battle, and the war itself, would fail.
It is notable that he preached to the Christians (not the Muslims) and, “with salutary warnings, forbade the war, and the reasons for it, but truth was turned to ridicule and they hardened their hearts and refused to be guided.”
Probably Francis’s entire attitude toward enemies, and therefore toward Islam, is best summarized in chapter twenty-two of his first Rule, which some scholars now think was his closing address to the chapter of friars before he left for Egypt, since he thought he would probably never return. He may have thought it would be his final testament to them. It surely sums up his own attitude, which frankly is at a very high level of non-dual consciousness. And, as with Jesus himself, most of us either-or thinkers might just glaze over this quote in disbelief, doubting that anyone could really say it and mean it:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, in whose footsteps we must follow, called the man who betrayed him his friend, and gave himself up of his own accord to his executioners. Therefore, our friends are those who for no reason cause us trouble and suffering, shame or injury, pain or torture, even martyrdom or death. It is these we must love, and love very much, because they give us eternal life.”
His humility and respect for the other, and thus for Islam, gained him what seems to have been an extended time, maybe as much as three weeks, with the Sultan. The Sultan sent him away with protection and a gift (a horn that was the Islamic call to prayer, and is still preserved in Assisi), which says that they had given and received mutual regard and respect.
There is no precedent that we know of for this kind of behavior in the medieval period. After Francis, the only other Franciscan I am aware of who made such contact is the Majorcan, Raymond Lull (1236–1315). He made at least seven trips to the Arab world, and sought a neutral vocabulary that all three monotheistic groups could hear, perhaps even discovering the Enneagram tradition for such purposes. He taught that prayerful transformation—not war—would help Muslims and Christians get beyond their mutual belligerence.
With great wisdom, Francis was able to distinguish between institutional evil and the individual who is victimized by it. He still felt compassion for the individual soldiers, although he objected to the war itself. He “deeply grieved”over the impending battle, and “mourned”the soldiers, especially the Spaniards because of what he called their “greater impetuousity.” He realized the folly and yet the sincerity of their patriotism, which led them, however, to be un-patriotic to the much larger kingdom of God where he placed his first and final loyalty.
Francis made it clear to his friars in his most primitive Rule that the first way of being among “the Saracens”is “not to engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake and to [be content] to confess that they [themselves] are Christians.”(Today, we call that the “ministry of presence.”) We can only assume this is what he himself had done in 1219, and he then urged that friars should only resort to formal preaching if they could “see it as God’s will,”a phrase (in’shallah) that he might have learned from Islam’s common use of it.
In Francis, as in Jesus, the turnaround of consciousness was complete: the enemy of the small self became the friend of the soul, and he who lost his small life could find his Great Life. Only such a new person can take on the social illnesses of our time, or any time, and not be destroyed by cynicism.
One wonders, however, if the dualistic and contentious mind that we now take as normative can understand, allow, or support this kind of radical spirituality—or any leaders who would talk this way today. My sense is that we have not progressed much beyond the exact dilemma that Francis stated in 1219: “If I tell them they will consider me a fool, but if I am silent, I cannot escape my own conscience.”The only difference is that there are people like you reading this kind of book, and hopefully allowing it to stir your heart, awaken your mind, and give firm step to your feet. This is not just the higher consciousness of Francis of Assisi; it is actually conscience itself.