Today I finally got my eyebrows done and finally mopped most of the floors of the house after the bathroom was redone. My hands are dry, but I can moisturize them, and my back needs a break, which it shall have. But now I can finally spread my yoga mat on the floor since it is no longer full of the chalk from the grouting job. With Karen as she’s able, I’ve been sitting on the floor on my block to do Zazen and Centering Prayer regardless. Yesterday the electrician came and finally finished the job, though we still need to paint the ceiling and walls. Finally.
A little more work on the house and we can sell it!
Karen and I went hiking on Saturday on the Appalachian Trail. We made it to Cat Rocks—a fascinating sample of geology, like so much in lower New York State—from 17A. We had fun.
For dinner, we stopped at Eddie’s Roadhouse in Warwick. They’re a cool little place with cool people, and the food is good, but the noise level is almost unbearable for me. I can’t “hear” anything, and neither can Karen. I ordered a hamburger without a bun and instead of fries I had a salad with olive oil and a vinaigrette, and I enjoyed it.
Fine, but by three-thirty in the morning I was sick. I don’t know what it was, but my stomach had been bothering me for a very long time, so I decided to fast for three days: only distilled water (sometimes with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice), tea, and broth.
On Wednesday morning I broke the fast, but I was still weak and not feeling well. Perhaps I needed a longer fast. Well, that was my shot at it … for this week.
On Thursday, I started feeling much better, better than I’ve been feeling. I saw my cool Israeli acupuncturist and herbalist and had a good talk about taking care of myself. Then I went directly to my spiritual director, one of the sisters of the Companions of Mary the Apostle, up near New Paltz (near Holy Cross Monastery), and our conversation centered around fasting as a metaphor for other kinds of making room—for Lady Spirit to fill my life. I got home exhausted for the “heavens” had opened and it poured. I had my wipers on high for some of the drive, when visibility was awful.
Thursday was the Feast Day of Saint Francis for he made his transitus the night before, in 1226 (for liturgical purposes, for Christians, the day is counted from sundown the “day” before, like it is for the Jews). I was supposed to meet with others of my Order in New York City for a mass at St. Francis Church on 31st Street and then have dinner with them. I couldn’t make it because of how I felt. Francis is dear to me. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on going to a Eucharist in which I was not allowed to partake, and which was administered by a patriarchal hierarchy. But I would have loved being with the other members of my Order.
After Francis’ dreams of becoming a knight were smashed in 1204 (he apparently contracted malaria when he was in prison in Perugia, a sickness that afflicted him for the rest of his life), it was possibly a secret friendship with Clare (she might have been a number years older than tradition has it) that moved his heart in the direction of his conversion in 1206. He did not have it in his mind to start his own order but probably did think concretely about repairing the dilapidated San Damiano church, so it could become a monastery for Clare and other women. The brotherhood grew around him on its own; men, some of whom were aristocrats, gravitated towards him, persuaded to give all their wealth to the poor. Francis gave to them the vision that he had for himself, that Christ by the Spirit had given to him, and it took shape.
But when Francis went to the Middle East in 1219 to interfere with the Fifth Crusade (which he did by talking to the Sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kabul), the brotherhood, which was by now quite large, turned against him. They wanted his person (his “sainthood”) as their icon but they didn’t want his vision. And Pope Honorius III was happy to help them, for he wanted to use the brotherhood for his own purposes. He also needed a saint to make him look good, though he didn’t exactly think Francis’ vision was realistic either. (The brotherhood also sidelined the brothers who followed Francis from the beginning and treated them badly.) Francis had contracted trachoma (a painful eye disease) and probably tuberculosis when he was in the Middle East, in addition to the malaria from which he was already suffering. However, the news he received of his brotherhood wounded his heart before he even got back home, and when he saw it for himself, it broke him.
After he received the stigmata in 1224 (symptomatic of the anguish he was in over the betrayal of his vision, and the identification he felt with Jesus in that anguish), very sick and almost completely blind, he asked to be taken to Clare’s monastery at San Damiano in 1225 where it all began. There he was given a hut—it was all he wanted—and there Clare was able to minister to him. It was while he was there that he wrote The Canticle of the Creatures. After he left in a very weakened state—to be abused by the medical profession—it was not long before he took his leave of this world from his home base, the Santa Maria degli Angeli chapel known as the “Little Portion” (people were already making plans for his relics). The Pope immediately got to work and had him canonized a saint in a year, and work began on a great basilica in his honor the same year (to the horror of Francis’ early followers).
It was Clare, however, who preserved Francis’ vision and held on to it, against the will of brothers and popes, for twenty-seven more years, even though she now also, ever since she ministered to Francis in his last days, seems to have contracted tuberculosis, only in her case, her immune system compromised by grief, it further spread into her bones, keeping her bedridden for all those years. She held on to Francis’s vision even when the brotherhood was busy fighting and dividing and persecuting each other over it.
Two days before her death on August 11 of 1253, after decades of resistance by the papacy, Pope Innocent IV finally approved of the rule she had written, the first time the hierarchy had ever approved a rule that was written by a woman. At that time over a hundred monasteries of women followed Clare’s way of life. It only took ten years, however, for Pope Urban IV to trash it in 1263. He wrote and mandated a new rule for the Clarisse monasteries, the one with which they were stuck until Vatican II.
So, when I remember Francis, I remember Clare too (her originality and persistence as much as her spirituality). Their stories are entwined, and he was as much dependent on her as she on him. I think of myself as a Clarisse more than a Franciscan, though of course Clarissans are Franciscans. But I am a Clarisse who, though bound to an Order, is independent of any denominational hierarchy, and therefore not bound to a cloister.
Truth be told, though, this is more an aspiration than a fact. Though I am a professed member of a dispersed community, I am only living as a tertiary thus far. I believe I am called to take my poverty further by Divine grace and live more into the charism of Religious life. My wife Karen and I are talking about creating community in a new way, an eco-feminist pluralistic expression of it, in mutuality and respect, where contemplative and active religious life can be lived out in a way that’s appropriate for the twenty-first century and the situation that we’re in, the last century of the patriarchy (it’s got to be!), and possibly the last century of humanity.