I celebrate Francis Day every year by going away, with the other Anglican Franciscans from my local area, to rest, pray and quietly reflect on our wonderful God.
The place where we go has several hectares of regenerated bushland. It has its own attendant native animals, all of them shy, even the goannas who last year raided the kookaburra's nest and ate the chicks. The property has mud-brick buildings, a Hermitage, where the brothers live, and the Old Monastery which is now a retreat house. This year with COVID-19 in play, we will have to visit in much smaller groups and the time will be even quieter and more reflective. Not a bad thing.
In his lifetime, Francis reinvigorated the faith of thousands of people. He took the gospels as his handbook for living and began with the account of Jesus sending his followers out two by two, into villages and towns to preach and to heal (Luke 10). He preached and prayed for healing as he travelled from place to place, begging for food and owning only his clothes. He attracted a great deal of attention, first by disowning his father’s wealth and disrobing in front of the bishop, and next by rebuilding a derelict church with help from friends and donors. How he lived was markedly different from the monastics and the church leaders of his day and was considered by some to be a sign of insanity. But to others, his life was joyous and attractive. He began a worldwide movement without having the smallest interest in such a thing. When the clamour of the burgeoning group of adherents became overwhelming he retreated to a cave to pray and recover his equilibrium.
All the followers of Jesus are known as saints and Francis was one of those. He seemed able to be joyfully wholehearted in the daily following of his God and careless of consequences and disapproval. As a true child of God, he focussed his attention on the promises and privileges that gave him great freedom to live by the guidance of the Spirit. He instructed his listeners to love Jesus’ church and to pray in every church they passed in their daily work. Seven times a day seemed reasonable to him, as pictured in the Psalms.
I had brothers and a sister in my early life and parents who gave us the freedom to roam around the large school grounds where they worked. The exotic plants and animals of Tanzania were my textbook outside, while inside the Bible, the Narnia books and a songbook called Golden Bells amused me in the hour called rest time. The world was captivating and included the joy of school in town, the companionship of a huge multinational community and a sense of being fully resourced with fun and adventure.
We travelled, I travelled alone on long journeys to schools as well, and the relocations challenged me in unexpected ways. Each relocation became an exercise in finding my feet and being at home, making new friends and even though quiet and shy discovering ways of being free in my living. It became a kind of quest and I live it still today. I’m not crippled by shyness any more, I’ve learnt a lot about giving space to the Spirit to give courage and liberty, but I wouldn’t do as well without the community of believers who encourage and bless my life in a thousand ways. Some of those remind me every year about Francis Day and we set off again to celebrate that dynamic saint who taught so many to let go of their stranglehold on their possessions and discover another way of living.
Image credit: “Christ Enthroned in His Creation” Christina DeMichelle