Fusion Embodied

Fusion Embodied

27 September 2013



Francesco di Bernadone (1182-1226) was a genius, and he was a myth too. Better known (and universally loved) as Francis of Assisi, he was a genius because he embodied the fusion of Christianity's three "streams" - contemplative, local church and missions.


He ought then to be of the greatest interest to us, as right now God is calling into existence The House of Prayer-Tribulation Church for these Last Days, through the fusion of His three "streams". This imperative and indissoluble "marriage" not only presents tremendous challenges to personal and institutional ego-ism, but it will also be ferociously (on occasions brutally) contested by the flesh, world and devil.


So, this is not an undertaking for the faint-hearted, the "flockers" or spiritual romantics.


"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Eph 6.12)


And while there is great instruction to be had from Francis' genius, there is valuable schooling to be drawn out of his myth. It is not that the "Poverello's" (Poor Man) legend is untrue. But it a partial, select and biased presentation of his genius, fashioned by the "temple guards" who will never risk their spiritual status quo for the prophetical "yet to be"! From the earliest days of his mission, the Church's "tailors" hacked into Francis' visionary "cloth". They were (as usual) adamant that this new "fabric" was going to fit their old "frame"!


"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment...pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." (Mt 9.16-17)


And so today, Francis is best known as the joyful, poverty-stricken evangelist; a barefoot, destitute missionary who could say with complete sincerity and integrity, "Preach the Gospel every day. If necessary use words. It is no use walking anywhere to preach, unless we preach as we walk."


The myth is beautiful and inspiring. It is to be preserved lovingly and disseminated vigorously. But what is even more important and more influential (especially for us today) is the full-blown, full-blooded genius...the commingling, fusion and union of God's contemplative, local church and missions "streams", within this little, holy fool.


"If any of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a 'fool' so that he may become wise." (1 Co 3.18)


"We (apostles) are fools for Christ." (1 Co 4.10)


(1) Local Church


A key and a catalyst for the genius of Francis' life's work and calling was an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, who arrested him with the command,


"Do you not see that my house is falling into ruin? Go, therefore, and repair the house out of love for me."


With all the zeal of youth, he took the Lord's directions completely literally, and immediately set about repairing a little, broken-down church just outside the walls of his home town. This ongoing love and care for buildings was the "Poverello's" ways of showing love and care for God and His People. Church buildings were very important places for Francis, being the locus for encountering the Creator and Redeemer in prayer.


"The Lord gave me such faith in churches."


And this devotion spilled over and proved itself in mercy and kindness and encouragement to all of the Chief Shepherd's shepherds...come what may.


"I do not want to consider the sin of them (pastors), for I see in them the Son of God."


Scholars have pointed out that the Church was as much in need of "repair" in Francis' day as it was in Martin Luther's, some 300 years later at the time of the Protestant Reformation. Undoubtedly both men loved the Church and its Head and were equally committed to reform and "recovery". But it would be strange and absurd to try to maintain that one was right and the other wrong, in the quite different approaches each took to their immense tasks.


Martin really responded by "attacking", with a view to correcting what was erroneous. Francis sought to be the "medicine", making up in his own person (and in the movement which rapidly sprang up around him) what was deficient in God's household.


"Instead of stripping away from the Church unjustly acquired goods, he showered it with invisible treasures and, under the gentle hand of this beggar, the mound of gold and wealth began to flower like a bush in springtime."(1)


Francis may have never "planted" a parish congregation, nor been its pastor or leader...but the local church "stream" flowed unequivocally and unabated into, through and out of him. He did not see any need for one "stream" to dominate or triumph over the others. For Francis they were distinct, unique threads, woven together by the Master to form a seamless garment to clothe humanity's nakedness.


(2) Contemplative.


At the outset of Francis' apostolic life, it was impossible to separate the currents of the local church and contemplative "streams" flowing through him.


His encounter with The Crucified and subsequent reconstruction of ruined chapels coincided with his social ostracism (largely by his upwardly mobile, merchant father), and his flight into the wilderness where he lived to pray as a virtual hermit. During this foundational season of his ministry, he was described as "a wild man, a kind of savage, closer to nature than civilisation."(2) But he was really following in the footsteps of his contemplative-prophet "fathers"...Elijah and John the Baptist, Benedict of Nursia and Bruno of Cologne.


"And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel." (Lk 1.80)


As time went by, the "temple guards" were eager and diligent to channel Francis and his movement more and more into the mould of being first-and-foremost itinerant evangelists and preachers. But Francis maintained his own contemplative calling for the rest of his life, asserting, "I am pleased for my brothers to study the Scriptures as long as they do not neglect application to prayer, after the example of Christ, of whom we read that he prayed more than he read."


For those who are dubious about the authenticity of this integral portion of the "Poverello's" being, they need look no further than the "Rule of Hermitages" which he wrote...presumably for practical and not merely theological reasons? In this document he highlights the importance of singing the Psalms at set times of the day and night ("Let them be careful to keep silence and to say their Hours..."), community life, and solitude. The object was to "purify our sentiments and unite them with the one, true supreme God and give new strength and virtue".


I think that it would be wrong to say that Francis lived to preach, retreating to pray from time-to-time to recharge his batteries before thundering back onto the road. I believe he lived to pray and he lived to preach the Gospel...the two "streams" flowed in him with vigour and "zip-less" concord and congruity. Until the end of his life, he was likely to "disappear" into a cave, hanging a ragged bit of cloth at the entrance to indicate that he was under no circumstances to be disturbed. Brilliant!


(3) Missions.


Fully convinced that he (and his followers) were charged "to teach men and women by word and example to prepare themselves for the Last Judgement", Francis (500 years ahead of John Wesley!) saw that "the whole world is my parish"!


"God in his mercy has chosen us not only for our own salvation but also to save many souls. Let us go throughout the world and exhort people."


In 1219, with one companion, he made the extraordinary journey from Italy to the Nile Delta. There a Crusader army and the soldiers of Islam were engaged in a massive, military stand-off. Francis walked barefoot through the "lines" calling out to the Saracen sultan. It is possible both sides thought him "bonkers", thus guaranteeing his safety. Nevertheless, he made it into the sultan's presence where he "preached for several days the word of God to the Saracens"!


I have already written elsewhere (Chapter 8 of "The Tribulation Church") that "today's 11th hour fusion of the Last Church's contemplative, missions and local church 'streams' requires an authentic revolution"! Revolutions, be they political, social or religious, are rarely stress and trouble-free events. In fact, because they usually involve the over-turning of an existing order and way of things, tension and conflict are inevitable. Occasionally that friction and contention can overwhelm and negate the revolution. That's tragic.


But the "Poverello" not only seamlessly fused the three "streams" within himself, he also gives us the "key" to that fusion being maintained through to its fulfillment. This fundamental, essential ingredient is "poverty of spirit".


"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5.3)


It might look glamorous or romantic in a modern movie, but walking barefoot through snow in a beggar's cloak is not even remotely exciting or sentimental. It's nigh on impossible to swallow being told by a group of your own followers, "Go away! You are only a simpleton and an ignoramus...we do not need you!" It takes something intangible at the moment of your death, to get out of bed, lie down on the flagstone floor and ask to be covered with ashes.


When Francis did these things, he wasn't looking for "hits" on his Facebook page. They were the natural outflowings of a heart so completely and utterly abandoned and given to Another, that there was no room left for himself or anything else. And so he looked upon poverty of spirit not as a concept or even a virtue. He viewed it as a force and a power which was personal and divine. And so he could sing,


"O Lady, holy poverty, may the Lord save thee and thy sister humility...(you) confound cupidity (acquisitiveness) and avarice (meanness) and the cares of the world."


The devil, flesh and world "attack" God's rich variety in His creative works by stirring up suspicion, competitiveness and hostility amongst His "threads". But it is the Lord's great goal to weave all of these various "threads" together and fashion something as strong as it is beautiful. And so it is with the present-day Tribulation-House of Prayer Church.


"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed." (Jn 12.24)


For us to become participants (rather than spectators or opponents) in the Lord's last revolution, we will have to "die" by falling in love with and then being faithful to Lady Poverty. But how exactly does that translate into ordinary, everyday life for us in the 21st C? Well, perhaps we might begin by reading the Bible and beseeching its Author to make us "doers of the word, and not hearers only". (Jas 1.22)


"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious...selfish ambition." (Gal 5.19-20)


"It is true that some preach Christ...out of selfish ambition." (Php 1.15-17)


"Do nothing out of selfish ambition." (Php 2.3)


"But if you harbour...selfish ambition in your hearts...(such) does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." (Jas 3.14-16)


In the Western Church at this time, I am convinced that the biggest "dragon" that must be put to the sword is personal, denominational and organisational "selfish ambition". So much of what is accepted as being ministry success is just carelessly disguised lust for fame, fortune, "feel-good"...glory, gold, gratification...celebrity, cash, carnality.


Francis did not merely stun this "dragon"...he slaughtered it. His methods were extreme, but his "results" were extreme too...extremely good, influential and long-lasting.(3) He took as being of ultimate seriousness the call to "follow naked the naked Christ", and he reaped his reward. Will we similarly be prepared to risk everything for Everything? Or will history witness us crouched protectively over our pathetic collections of religious trophies, in splendid isolation in our very own gilded cages?


"Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Mt 10.39)



(1) "Martin Luther" by Georges Bernanos, France 1943.

(2) "Francis of Assisi" by Andre Vauchez, Yale Uni Press, New Haven 2012.

(3) All over the world today, young men and women are serving Jesus Christ as pastors, missionaries and contemplatives, looking to Francis of Assisi as their "father" and their "founder".