By Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF
“Why is the whole world running after you?”
That’s the question one of the early friars allegedly asked Francis of Assisi. Why? Why you? What was it? What did Francis have that made people want to see him, hear him, follow him?
Francis’ mystical spirituality was so expansive, diverse, unfocused and “messy” that he couldn’t be, like so many other saints and founders, neatly laser-focused on just one charism.
What Francis understood was a divine infrastructure everyone else seemed to miss. Somehow he intuited the grace of the whole, seeing all of us dropped in a world of delight—a universe of immense beauty– bestowed by a God in love with creation. The world was neither evil nor ugly, but a place of beauty and graciousness. Everything– from stars to centipedes, Popes to lepers– was interrelated– and all was gift, all was good. We were not only going home, we were already home if we could simply see it!
Lepers and “infidels” were family, violence was unthinkable against a brother or sister, the earth was the mother who bountifully fed us, the universe our playground and delight. On top of all this, God came in the person of Jesus to teach us how to live and love!
Francis’ simple but profound insight was “right relationship.” He saw that every iota of creation comes from love, exists in love and belongs to every other sacred entity. Francis lived in a sort of “Lego universe”—a mystical awareness that recognized millions of connectable pieces all waiting to be snapped together in an evolving creativity and harmony. Lego pieces connect to each other in myriad ways to create vehicles, buildings, cars, spaceships– even working robots. Anything constructed can be taken apart again, and the pieces reused to make new things. (A Paschal Mystery, perhaps?)
Lego pieces, like creation itself, belong to a universal system; each piece is compatible in some way with other existing pieces. Lego bricks made in 1958 still interlock with those made today. When two pieces are engaged, they must fit firmly, yet be easily disassembled, leaving open the options of connecting, disconnecting and reconnecting over and over again.
For Francis, creation had no inside/ outside—but everything lived in the process of connecting, evolving, living, dying, growing, rising– all poured out in a glorious bounty from the heart of God.
With this insight, Francis blew up centuries of ecclesiastical barnacles and dogmatic boredom, human isolation, disconnection and a salvation story with little personal resonance. Instead of “ho-hum” religion, he proclaimed a thrilling Lego universe.
We learned from him that water and fire and clouds are our sisters and brothers; dead branches played like a violin can make sweet music; sheep and cows at a Christmas crèche might make a baby appear; decaying lepers merit sweet embraces; “infidels” are actually fellow-seekers in disguise; frogs and tomatoes and babies all jump from God’s heart; if you preach to birds and fish, they will listen; planets and stars and rainbows, gorgeous as they are, point to a far greater beauty in their Creator. And love– God’s love is dizzying, generous, unending, undeserved and poured crazily in heaps of Legos over all of us –without exception.
No wonder the whole world has run after him!