Monday, November 21, 2016

November 21: Chomp or Fast, Saint Francis of Assisi, Whiny Bitch

Still, it is to the picture of the "sleek silvery" crab-eater seals that I return, seals drawn up by scientists from the Antarctic ice pack, seals bearing again and again the long gash marks of unthinkable teeth.  Any way you look at it, from the point of view of the whale or the seal or the crab, from the point of view of the mosquito or copperhead or frog or dragonfly or minnow or rotifier, it is chomp or fast.

That's a fairly depressing worldview, if you ask me.  Survival depending upon size and aggression and chance.  If I am a crab, I look out for the seal.  If I am a seal, I'm looking over my shoulder for the whale with the big teeth.  God help me if I'm a dragonfly or minnow.  Every creature needs to consume.  Every creature can be consumed.  The choice Dillard lays out here:  are you going to feast or starve?

Of course, Dillard knows life is a little more complicated than this paradigm, especially for human beings.  Most of the creatures of the world operate on instinct.  They see food, they eat food.  Simple as that.  Humankind has to throw in complicated things like morality and ethics and conscience and social responsibility.  All those things sort of mess up the menu for us.

However, this post is not going to be about food, despite the fact that Thanksgiving (that American festival of gluttony) is only three days away.  No, my point tonight is about sacrifice.  Last night, I finished reading Saint Bonaventure's biography of Saint Francis of Assisi.  (That's right--it's a book about a saint written by a saint.  Double your pleasure.)  Over and over, Bonaventure writes of how Francis would retreat to some desert hideaway to fast and pray for extended periods of time.  Francis wouldn't eat for, like, forty days and nights.

Saint Francis really valued sacrifice.  He starved himself, donated what food he had to the poor.  On more than one occasion, he gave the clothes right off his back to some cold, needy schlub that he met along the road.  He walked barefoot.  Wore robes that were soft as asbestos.  He slept on the ground, using a rock for a pillow.

Now, you might guess that all of this sacrifice may have done him some injury.  You would be right.  A good portion of his adult life, Francis was a very ill man.  At the time of his death, he was nearly blind and suffering from the wounds of the Stigmata.  One biographer even hypothesizes that Francis may have contracted leprosy from his ministrations at a local hospital for lepers. 

Yet, from what Bonaventure writes, Francis always counted himself the luckiest of people.  His choices weren't limited to chomp or starve.  He exuded joy all the time, even at his physically weakest moments.  I imagine he could tell a good joke if the mood struck him.  And people thronged him wherever he went.  Wanted to be with him, talk to him, feed him, house him.  He was a pretty popular guy, for a hermit.  It probably had something to do with his ability to cast out demons, make the lame walk, and raise the dead.  But, at the time of his death, Francis had thousands of disciples.  Not bad for a guy with a bad haircut.

I'm not trying to blaspheme here.  My point is that sometimes I lose sight of the joy in my life.  Instead of focusing on my blessings, I focus on my needs.  I do that a lot of the time, as a matter of fact.  I have a feeling that, if I were to meet Saint Francis on the street, he would kick my ass and call me a whiny bitch.  (He would speak in Italian, so it would sound a lot holier.)  He wouldn't have suffered my brand of spirituality very long.  If you can't tell, I was little . . . humbled by the life of Saint Francis last night.

So, in honor of Francis of Assisi, Saint Marty is giving thanks for the needs of his life tonight, because needs are just opportunities for moving a little closer to God.

There are no funny Saint Francis cartoons

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