Today, I join my Roman Catholic friends in celebrating the life of Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone who, as a young man, turned from beliefs and membership in the military, and then rejected his expected inheritance of easy wealth and power, and instead chose to pursue a different wealth: a conscious connection to, and respect for, all of creation.
It is said, too simplistically, that he “loved animals and nature.” I think he realized–and loved–that he was just another animal and part of nature, but born, as are all humans, with the responsibilities that come with our intellects and the potential to dominate the rest of creation, unless we recognize our kinship. I don’t think he “chose poverty” so much as he rejected the poverty of spirit offered by enslavement to his society’s definition of wealth. In our time of startling corporate greed and concentrated financial wealth, when students are taught more about branding, marketing, and acquisition than they are about developing a moral conscience and care for the earth, Giovanni Francesco has much to teach and offer.
Francis has been my anam cara (soul friend) for most of my life. He is the reason I have welcomed 4-legged companions into my life. (In fact, three of our current cats joined the family on St. Francis’ Day, 3 years ago.) He is the reason I earned an MA in Servant Leadership. He is the reason I am a pacifist, an environmentalist, and a gardener living in the country. Francis informs my politics and my decision that my body will one day be offered back to the earth in a green burial. He is one of the chief architects of my spiritual belief system.
Above all, Giovanni Francis di Bernardone has taught me about authenticity. He had to turn from all the important, learned, and “adult” voices in his life except the inner and most important one, to be the artist he came to be. And we’ve all come with art to share, and must, if we’re ever to be whole. Not perfect, just whole, a word related, at its root, to healed and healthy.
One summer during my college years I worked in a paper mill in Alabama. One of my co-workers, Miss Honey, was an older woman who shared her breaks with me. I had a lot of questions about life and my direction at that time, and will always remember her holding her carton of buttermilk, squinting at me seriously, and saying, “You just gotta do who you are, and be who you is!”
I think Francis would agree.
Celebrate his life by sharing your art, blessing your loves and companions, caring for your earth, speaking your truths, creating meaningful rituals, doing who you are, and being who you is…
Prayer of Francis
Spirit of Love,
Make me a gardener of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon;
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith;
Where there is despair, let me sow hope;
Where there is darkness, let me sow light;
Where there is sadness, let me sow joy.
Help me to see that by consoling others, I will be consoled;
By offering understanding, I will come to understand myself;
By loving, I will rest in love…
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is when our bodies die that our spirits are set free.
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