“It’s so often a treat to receive a belt, a pair of boots or even a book,” said the volunteer at the community center. “The littlest thing can be a treasure.” It was true. A reminder of how the poor look at things that I too often take for granted. I was receiving a tour of Fletcher Place Community Center southeast of downtown Indianapolis in a first step to begin volunteering there on my day off from the church.
We began the day with a community breakfast that is provided a few days each week by United Methodist congregations in the area. The breakfast was filling. Eggs, sausages and biscuits and gravy. It was good food! They try to give plenty of food to the guests who come for breakfast in case it’s their only meal for the day. Being in that space having a meal felt warm and peaceful. Every person came from different places and different situations, yet gathering around breakfast was something we all held in common.
Those things that are treasures for the guests of the community center, I too often take for granted. Whether it be the things I wear or meals I have to eat, I have an abundance in my life. Our culture tells us to want more. To be successful we need more than abundance. We need more things, more clothes, and as a result, more room. We need better, bigger and brighter. Yet there’s another way to live.
I have been reading the work of Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, who is a Franciscan priest and writer. In his book The Art of Letting God: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, he introduces the Franciscan way. This way of life, which was introduced by Jesus and lived out by Francis, is one of letting go of our desire for more. We can live a good and joy filled life when we start to live in the peace of appreciating what we have and letting go of what we don’t. When we start to follow the Franciscan way, we can begin to see the needs of others around us and in the world.
The Franciscan way really is not that different from the Wesleyan way. I have studied both the way of Fr. John Wesley and the way of Francis of Assisi and found that their spiritual journeys, while in different time periods and places, continued into similar places. Wesley lived by a motto of “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” We are to give all we can to those in need. We are to stop trying to seek more and more and start giving to those in need. Wesley ended his life with just a few coins. Everything else he gave away to help others.
Wesley understood the importance of simplicity. He lived a life of abundance. He had everything he needed. Yet something in him drew him closer to the poor. He was caught by the Spirit of Christ in 18th century England, just like Francis in 13th C. Italy. When we have an abundance, we are called to turn our eyes and hearts to others in need.
There are sayings of Brother Giles, who was an early follower of Francis, that speak to this way of life. A way of life that is full of service, simplicity, giving and joy. Brother Giles wrote:
Blessed is he who loves and doesn’t expect to be loved in return.
Blessed is he who fears and doesn’t want to be feared.
Blessed is he who serves and doesn’t expect to be served in return.
Blessed is he who treats others well and doesn’t expect like treatment in return.
Because these are profound truths the foolish do not rise to them.
Fr. Richard Rohr shares that when we live life in such a way, one of looking to the needs of others, we may live in a great peace and joy. This sort of peace, which surpasses all understanding, may be one where we find great joy in simply being present; being present to creation on a walk in the woods; being present to brother or sister anywhere and being present to the Spirit of Christ throughout our lives. That’s where true joy is found. That’s where authentic abundance is established, in a Spirit of simplicity, giving and joy. One might call this the Franciscan and Wesleyan way of Christ.
(The sayings of Brother Giles are taken from the book Francis the Journey and the Dream by Murray Bodo, O.F.M.)