Posted by: Lisa | December 16, 2012

Molded by God

“We used to be told in the nursery that if a man were to bore a hole through the centre of the earth and climb continually down and down, there would come a moment at the centre when he would seem to be climbing up and up. . . .  If I do not know what this reversal or inversion feels like, it is because I have never been there.  And this also is an allegory.  It is certain that the writer, it is even possible that the reader, is an ordinary person who has never been there.  We cannot follow St. Francis to that final spiritual overturn in which complete humiliation becomes complete holiness or happiness, because we have never been there.”
(Gilbert K. Chesterton in St. Francis of Assisi, 1924, pp. 106-107)

I borrowed the above book from our church library because I love St. Francis – and I’m fascinated by old books.  Yes, the book is 88 years old; it’s an 88-year-old book discussing a saint who lived 800 years ago.  Reading the book gave me the odd sense of being in the 13th century, the early 20th century, and the present moment at the same time.  There’s nothing quite like being in three time-periods at the same time.  I found myself imagining the world from the minds of people 800 years ago and people 88 years ago – as well as the present time.

The above quote jumped out at me because I feel I can relate to it on some level.  Certainly, I haven’t gone from complete humiliation to complete holiness/happiness, but I’ve experienced how God can turn major disappointments into contentment.

St. Francis experienced major humiliation after setting off (seemingly at God’s command) to fight in a distant war; he flung himself whole-heartedly into knighthood because he was sure God had called him to the task.  Yet on his way to fight, he became seriously ill and had to return home.  He also had a dream informing him that he had misunderstood God’s command.

After recovering to some degree, he had a mystical experience in which Jesus asked him to repair His church that was falling into ruin.  Francis took this literally – and decided to start repairing the little church of San Damiano.  Since he had no money, he took some of his father’s cloth (he was a cloth merchant) and sold it to buy materials for the church reconstruction.  His father was furious and took Francis to court in front of the whole town.  A complete humiliation, perhaps made even more difficult after his earlier “failure” as a knight.

After this, Francis seems to have spent a period in depression and utter despair.  He literally lived in a cave for a while.  No one will ever know what he endured during this time, but somehow he emerged a changed man, as a butterfly breaks out of its chrysalis.  Through the grace of God, he emerged one day – and filled with love and compassion, he kissed a leper.  He found his vocation to love poverty/simplicity and to love the poor.  He found his mission from God.  This set him on the path to contentment, happiness and holiness.

I still don’t know what God is doing with my life, but I’ve suffered two major humiliations in my life:  (1) severe postpartum depression/suicide attempts/divorce; and (2) returning to “the real world” after following what I honestly believed was God’s call to enter a religious community as a nun.  Both of these situations seemed to remove me from the regular flow of life for a while as I spent time in darkness – waiting and wondering what to do next.  Such periods are incredibly painful, indescribable.

In both cases, I went back to doing what I’d been doing – teaching fitness classes – since I had no clue what the next step would be.  (I understand why Jesus’ disciples went back to being fishermen after his death and resurrection:  they returned to what they knew they could do [see John 21:3]).  After my divorce, I didn’t have strong faith in God; I didn’t know how to be patient and place my trust in Him.  Therefore, I made many foolish choices and suffered the consequences.  After being in the religious community, although I felt stunned by what had happened, I believed there was some point to it, that God was doing something in my life.

Step by step, using the gifts I have been given – particularly in teaching Yoga – God has led me to a place in life where I feel relatively content and happy.  My days revolve around prayer, study and work – and time with my loving husband.  I consciously choose to do everything as service to God and humanity.

As Francis was forced to give up his dream of being a heroic knight, I’ve had to give up my dream of being a holy, cloistered nun.  Out of intense pain, grief, and emptiness, new possibilities grew for Francis – and for me.  God made Francis into a soldier for Christ.  God is molding me into His own vision for the kind of bride He wants me to be for Him.

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