Within the enclosed walls of the Friary I contemplate the natural beauty of its semi – wild garden. The small, wooden chalet, in which I live, is situated here amidst this oasis of calm and peace.
I came to this refuge, to this sacred place, to find a healing and I found much more – humility, learning, companionship and joy……The Friary has given me shelter from the fierce storms and winds that have blown through this landscape, and unfortunately through my life…..
The Angelus Bell is rung here everyday, in the fullness of Franciscan tradition, calling to prayer all those that live in the parish and beyond. But whether any attention is paid to this call, I’m uncertain. Yet when trouble surfaces in peoples’ lives, causing distress and discomfort, many seem to find their way here to seek some form of restoration and reparation.
Life can be difficult…..it can get us down, spin us around, push us into places and situations where we would rather not be. The resulting confusion and uncertainty then lead us to a personal suffering that seems to imprison us in negativity and resignation. Suffering is a reality of life that plagues us all at times, eroding our confidence and sense of self worth. It then becomes all too easy to slip into a downward spiral of hopelessness and alienation, from each other and from ourselves.
A full, human existence, in an imperfect world, brings so many challenges, but we have to recognize their potential to shape our lives negatively, and then, with skilful application, try to transcend them. The poet Rilke once said that ” we squander our pain” meaning that we do not listen to what the experience is trying to tell us, so we do not learn. Yet it is only through bringing a soft awareness to our plight, within a non -judgemental framework, that we can start to listen and understand our suffering.
St Francis was no stranger to uncertainty and confusion, suffering and pain, yet he never waivered. He remained totally committed to listening deeply to what his heart was saying so that he could follow the spiritual path, right up to the very end. His ministry was primarily one of healing, of bringing peace and reconciliation to troubled souls. Throughout his life he immersed himself in this endeavour with such fortitude, such courage that his reputation as an inspired spiritual practitioner became sealed in the annals of christendom
” This is our vocation: to heal wounds, to bind what is broken, to bring home those who are lost.”
St Francis’s entire life could be considered a healing – a healing for others and a healing for himself, but it was supported, sustained and nourished by an active engagement with poverty ( voluntary simplicity ). Indeed, even today, one of the central pillars of Franciscan life remains a commitment to simplistic living. And could it be any different? For in abandoning all forms of material wealth St Francis was able to touch and share a life with many disadvantaged people, the less fortunates of life who struggled in the face adversity. It also brought about a freedom from attachment which allowed him to grow spiritually, unimpeded by the influences of greed and acquisition.
” Poverty is an extraordinary way of salvation, since it nourishes humility, the root of perfection. Its fruits are manifold, though hidden. This is the Gospel treasure hidden in the field. To buy it we have to sell everything, and what we cannot sell, we should consider worthless in comparison to this treasure.”
St Francis was known as El Poverello – the poor man and he came to accept this title with a certain degree of pride because it reflected his committed desire to consciously court Lady Poverty, as Christ had done, in his work of assisting and helping the poor. He also helped others…..
One day three desperate criminals came to see St Francis to ask him for some food and shelter. In his absence another Brother meet them and said, in a rather forthright manner, that they had no right to expect anything from the Franciscan Order because of their criminal activities. He then ordered them to go away. Later, when St Francis returned from his journey, the Brother, with some relish, told of the incident with the three visitors in full details. St Francis however, was not at all pleased with what he had heard and startled the Brother by criticizing him for turning away three hungry men who, like everyone else, were considered very important in God’s eyes. On St Francis’s orders the Brother then went after the three criminals, with food and drink, and begged them to forgive him. He had no right to turn them away he said and if they cared to return, and leave behind their unskilful ways, there would be a welcomed home for them in the community. Feeling humbled by what had been said, and feeling that God’s love and forgiveness could even reach out to touch them, the three criminals put aside their pasts and eventually were received in the Order.
Compassion and forgiveness had brought healing to St Francis and the Brother because they did not have to carry around with them a host of various judgements and opinions that they were not entitled to carry around.The healing of the three criminals enabled them to reach out to a fuller, richer life – a spiritual life and leave behind their connection with unskilful practices that had hurt people, including themselves.
Through compassionate insight St Francis saw the need to live simply, to live lightly, coming along side people to share in their lives. Then, in the full embrace of this condition, he was led to a spiritual maturity that encompassed deep humility and forgiveness.
” Living without property , means never getting upset by anything that anyone does.”
“ We must be firmly convinced that we have nothing of our own , except our vices and sins.”
Towards the end of his life, St Francis made it known that he wanted to be buried on the Collis Infernus, the hill just outside Assisi, where traditionally criminals were executed. This reinforced his identification with Christ, who had died at Calvary along side two thieves.
St Francis’s lifelong engagement with simplicity led eventually to his salvation. A salvation, as he understood it, in the body of Christ.
Healing involves adopting a non – judgemental approach to viewing life where there is no desire to feel that we need to be right all the time. For healing actually accepts the need NOT to be right all the time. If we are too right, then we are probably wrong.
Healing is available to each and every one of us provided that we are able to release our built up anxieties and fears, our resentments and illusions, our irritations and doubts. But the decision itself ultimately rest with us, no one else can undertake it for us. We need to be our own healers, our own spiritual practitioners, our own St Francis.
Rushing headlong through life, trying to meet constant deadlines and targets, trying to keep up with run away schedules and over – full timetables, just creates worry and stress for all of us.
In the fast, neurotic pace of modern day life, where we are constantly being chased by the ticking of clocks and the buzzing of mobiles, we can lose ourselves. We can rush off into ‘ busyness ‘, trying to achieve all manner of things, as if it was a race or an assault course. And unfortunately, because we become so caught up in this process, we pay too little regard to our physical, mental and spiritual health – until it is too late.
We must ask ourselves the question: should we have to increasingly adjust our lives to keep up with the run away pace of contemporary life, or should the latter be scaled down and ‘ humanized ‘ to meet our deeper needs and desires? We are not built for speed, or ‘ multiple tasking ‘. We are built to make a full bodied presence in a world where the only clocks and timetables are set by nature.
The feelings of being deeply present in the world, connected to the innate gift of spirituality, is something St Francis knew about. He was constantly striving to engage deeply and meaningfully with time, in a wholly natural way. For him it was a constant spiritual practice of trying to feel a divine presence, both within him and about him. He always walked mindfully, unhurriedly, wherever he went as if he was rhythmically in tune with his beloved Umbrian countryside.
“ It is of no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is the preaching.”
HEALING FOR OTHERS
St Francis, as a young man, enjoyed all the trappings that derive from financial prosperity. A prosperity that his father had gained as a successful cloth merchant. But increasingly he grew uneasy with his life, a life that had come to encompass so many frivolous activities. Increasingly he felt that God somehow wanted him to embark on a spiritual journey to undertake a noble enterprise, but he was unaware of what exactly it was.
One day, as he was riding past a leper colony, he sighted a man with dirty rags wrapped around his head. In his accustomed way Francis threw some coins on the ground and started to ride off. Then something happened. He was so overwhelmed by an eruption of emotion – which shook him to his very core – that he dismounted from his horse and went over to the leper. When he confronted the crouched, deformed figure he could not pull back, the feeling of such deep compassion was so alive in him that he unhesitatingly embraced the leper and kissed him. In that moment of coming together, in that moment of transcendental unification, Francis knew that he would have to leave his world of privileged wealth behind forever and dedicate his life to the alleviation of poverty and suffering.
“ It is in giving oneself that one receives; it is in forgetting oneself that one is found.”
My time at the Friary will soon be coming to a close, which will allow others the opportunity to seek sanctity here for a while. My life will now move forward in a different direction, with a different set of circumstances to confront, and no doubt I will need to seek out further healing again, along the way.
My time here, which has meant so much to me, has involved: gardening, cooking and sharing meals, cultivating friendships, meditation, relaxation, seeking out quietness for reflection and writing – all nourishing activities that have helped to sustain and enrich me.
I have been fortunate.
All time is healing time, if we are engaged reflectively and mindfully with our lives, giving of our very best.
We must never forget this……
MAY WE ALL CONTINUE ON OUR JOURNEY OF HEALING……