St Francis of Assis – by Jamie Arpin Ricci

by Christine Sine
St Francis of Assis

St Francis of Assis - beyond bird baths and sound bites

Today’s post is the second in a series by Jamie Arpin Ricci around the themes of his just published book The Cost of CommunityJamie is an urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg’s inner city West End neighbourhood. He is planter & pastor of Little Flowers Community, in the inner city of Winnipeg. Jamie is also forming Chiara House, a new monastic community. He is a third order Franciscan with The Company of Jesus and is founding co-director of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Urban Ministries Winnipeg with his wife Kim & son, Micah.

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St. Francis of Assisi

In many ways, beyond bird baths and sound bites, I only became really familiar with St. Francis of Assisi after watching the 1972 Franco Zeffirelli film, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”.  A loose retelling of the early part of Francis’s life, the movie borrows strongly from cultural themes of the 1960’s & 70’s.  In other words, Francis is something of a peacenik, hippy, love child (albeit, a celibate one).  When I first saw the film, I loved it- moved by the beauty and poetry and devotion of the young saint, identifying with his dissatisfaction with the nominal expressions of faith around him.  The story captured me and drew me into the life of St. Francis.

As the years went by and my exploration of St. Francis and Franciscan spirituality/missionality deepened, I began to see how inaccurate the film had been.  Of course, every film made about a long past era inevitable (even necessarily) borrows from current contexts to allow the viewer to more meaningfully enter in.  However, I found myself increasingly troubled by how this version neutered Francis, making him a loveable, gentle eccentric.  The Francis I was discovering was bold, uncompromising and excessively radical in his devotion to Jesus.  His powerful example was being watered down in the film!  And so, I stopped watching the movie altogether.

Several more years have past since then and something strange has happened: the movie has grown into my heart once again.  Is it any less misleading?  No, my concerns are still as strong as they once were.  And yet, I cannot help but feel a strong sense of gratitude for this film.  After all, it was this simple and accessible telling of Francis’s life that helped me on a journey that would alter the whole course of my life.  Without it, I wonder where I would be today.  And so, I accept it for what it is and forgive it for what it is not.

I have also come to realize that my journey with Christ has had a similar trajectory.  The Jesus of my childhood looks very different than the Jesus I follow today.  Having more to do with living a moral life and providing a means to avoid hell, believing in Jesus then looked different to following Him now.  I was taught nothing of His call to live justly.  Faith was largely a private, personal piety you devoted oneself to.  The essential communal expressions of Christianity were all but unmentioned.  One might think I follow a different God altogether.  And yet, how can I begrudge a tradition that ultimately led me to active relationship with God and a place within His chosen people, the Church?

Please understand- I am not suggesting my past faith is something I have grown out of or above.  As we consider our past- those places, people and choices in our faith journey that seem less than ideal, it is important that we embrace the discipline of gratitude.  Such thankfulness does not ignore nor deny the failings that were there, but failing to be grateful denies the honesty of our journey towards Christ.

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