Franciscan Prayer: Change Your Life by Imitating God’s Life (Part 6 in a series)

In this post on Franciscan prayer, I explore two characteristics that make this style of prayer somewhat unique. The first is Clare’s addition of imitation at the end of the standard three-part monastic method of gazing (reading), considering (meditating), and contemplating. This addition gives typical Franciscan prayer a tight connection to life. Franciscans imagine their prayer to change their lives. The second characteristic is the object of the gazing, in other words, what we look at. In Franciscan tradition, the prized object of gazing is the poor and humble Jesus who discloses a poor and humble God.

When these two defining characteristics are put together, Franciscan prayer comes alive with dynamism. The reason is that through them we take on the life of God, or as Genesis 1:26 says, the image and likeness of God. How does this happen?

Through gazing and considering the Incarnation (God becoming human), Francis and Clare learned that God’s characteristics included being “poor and humble.” During these first two stages of prayer, Franciscans typically see these things in God and the Incarnate Word. For a moment, they simply enjoy experiencing this in God through contemplation. But soon they are quickly imitating this selflessness in God made visible in Jesus. In doing so, they share in God’s life. They take on God’s mission. How do they do that?

They live like God and in the process heal the break that has separated God and his creatures. Oddly, the means for doing this becomes God’s end. God’s method (how he does it through humility and poverty) actually is the life God offers us! God’s way of acting is who he is. When we imitate his way, we actualize the goal of becoming God’s likeness. As it did for Francis and Clare, this prayerful experience causes us to rethink what divine life is all about.

In several post on Franciscan prayer, I have insisted that this style of prayer doesn’t end with blissful union in contemplation. No, it moves on to change our lives through poverty and humility. The consequences are not always pretty and romantic realities!

Francis' conversion took a major turn
after his religious experience before
 the crucifix found in the little church
of San Damiano just below Assisi. 
This pattern also further explains a very early suggestion I made in these posts on Franciscan Prayer. It seems better in Franciscan prayer to start with God’s desire because once we are in touch with God’s desire for us through the Incarnation, it’s pretty hard not to be emotionally touched by God’s way of acting and being for us. As in all relationships, one person’s behavior elicits a response from the other. Surely we are free to ignore such a profound experience, but God seems to think that in the end his love affects even the most hard hearted. Our own desire is affected by God’s desire in action. So, Franciscans like to begin their prayer by reflecting on God’s desire.

We have no reason to believe God thinks there is a better method. For, in the Franciscan vision of God, he keeps using the methods of poverty and humility over and over without end. This line of reflection also suggests that Franciscan prayer, spirituality, and thought are more concerned with God’s heart and our hearts than any of the best “correct ideas” our little brains can think up.

Perhaps God knows something we don’t!