Monday, 16 December 2013

Doctor Faustus and the Buddy System

I know it's been a while, but I've been haunted by the story of Doctor Faustus and decided to write an article in an attempt to get rid of him. I don't think it worked, but it was just posted at the John Adams Center for the Study of Faith, Philosophy, and Public Affairs:

Doctor Faustus, as performed by the Grassroots Shakespeare Company

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

In Memoriam: My Grandmother

The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.”  - Rainer Maria Rilke

Johnny Chuck, Old Mother West Wind (1913)

I have been wounded.

Renee Godfrey—one of the sweetest and most cheerful influences in my life—passed away on a calm, sunny morning a few days ago. Her health had been deteriorating for a while, so I knew this was coming. And while Dante might be right in saying “The arrow seen before cometh less rudely” (Divine Comedy, “Paradise,” canto 17, line 24), the passing of a loved one still pierces the heart, no matter how much warning is given.

Grandmother and me

My hurt comes from a feeling of absence. It will be difficult to visit my hometown, knowing that I won’t be able to count on the sly smile and chuckles of my grandma. I can’t look forward to hearing her sing-song voice in person, or on the phone. My arms will feel much emptier.

But I also understand Grandmother and myself more perfectly.

Renee loved to read, and often read to me as a child. Some of my fondest memories are of my grandma reading me “Mother West Wind” stories at night when I visited her house. There was something magical about the way that she would make the stories come to life, so much so that they lived inside me for a time. A few years ago, I stayed the night at her house again. Remembering those long-ago evenings, I asked my grandma if she’d read me “Mother West Wind” stories again. She was happy to, and as I curled up next to her and listened to the melodic tones of her storytelling, I wept. I didn’t weep because of any pain or sense of impending loss, but from a sense of fullness – my heart was so full that it came spilling out of my eyes.

It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

My grandma’s love of reading impressed me from a very young age, and was one of the reasons why I wanted to learn to read for myself. I wanted access to that wonderful world of stories; a world in which she was so often my guide.  She loved beautiful stories, and through her enthusiastic example, a similar love was planted deep within me.

As a tribute to the woman who blessed my life with her presence and her stories, here is an excerpt from the Mother West Wind story, “Mrs. Redwing’s Speckled Egg” in Old Mother West Wind (1913):

Picture by Eliza Wheeler

Old Mother West Wind came down from the Purple Hills in the golden light of the early morning. Over her shoulders was slung a bag – a great big bag – and in the bag were all of Old Mother West Wind’s children, the Merry Little Breezes.

Old Mother West Wind came down from the Purple Hills to the Green Meadows, and as she walked she crooned a song:

Ships upon the ocean wait -
  I must hurry, hurry on!
Mills are idle if I’m late -
  I must hurry, hurry on!

When she reached the Green Meadows, Old Mother West Wind opened her bag, turned it upside down and shook it. Out tumbled all the Merry Little Breezes and began to spin round and round for very joy, for you see they were to play in the Green Meadows all day long until Old Mother West Wind should come back at night and take them all to their home behind the Purple Hills.

First they raced over to see Johnny Chuck. They found Johnny Chuck sitting just outside his door eating his breakfast. One, for very mischief, snatched right out of Johnny Chuck’s mouth the green leaf of corn he was eating, and ran away with it. Another playfully pulled his whiskers, while a third rumpled up his hair.

Johnny Chuck pretended to be very cross indeed, but really he didn’t mind a bit, for Johnny Chuck loved the Merry Little Breezes and played with them every day.

Mother West Wind (1916) by Bertha Lum

My grandma’s death has lifted me closer to her, closer to my true self, and closer to the Divine.

I will always love you, Grandmother.

Thanks for lifting me.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Myths of History (or, the History of Myths)

*This is a continuation of my first post on the power of stories, which you can read here.

Today, the term “myth” conjures up ideas of something false, fanciful, or ignorant. The truth about “myth,” however, is much different. In Greek, the word mythos originally meant “something that is spoken.” This term originated in Athens as the antithesis of the word logos, meaning “an objective account of an event or phenomenon,” and which followed the rules of reason and logic. Mythos was the spoken word, and logos was the specific type of word used in law, accounting, and the court.

In discussing the nature of humanity, gods, and the universe, there were two approaches that one could take. The philosophers discussed these in terms of logos, trying to reach truth through a purely intellectual process. Poets, on the other hand, used mythos, trying to arrive at truth through flashes of insight and focusing more on sets of ideas, attitudes, and emotions. As systems of logic and reason gained greater credibility, this alternative, “mythic” way of understanding existence began to lose its value in the eyes of many.

Detail of Plato from Raphael's "The School of Athens"
For instance, around the 5th century BCE, Plato used the word mythos to describe fictional stories and set this concept opposite of “the truth,” which could only be verified or falsified by logic. In other words, “myth” was something that lacked any resemblance to empirical reality. In Roman thought, the word mythos was translated as fabula, meaning a story or play, which entered the English language as the word “fable” and carried with it the sense that such stories were somehow less valuable than other, more straightforward explanations of the world and our existence. The fate of the word “myth” was seemingly sealed by the Enlightenment and its definition of “truth” as something that was logical, rational, or empirically verifiable, and “false” as anything that didn’t fall into these rigid categories (such as myth). It was this rational sort of truth that was to be sought at all costs, while anything resembling myth was to be discarded.

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis

However, there were some in the academic world who recognized profound truths about our existence in the myths of the world. Some went so far as to argue that certain truths about humanity, the gods, and the universe could only be expressed through the medium of myth. J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), Professor of Anglo-Saxon language and literature at Oxford, was one of these. His close friend C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) disagreed strongly, saying that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though “breathed through silver.” In response to Lewis’ statement, Tolkien wrote a poem called “Mythopoeia” (meaning “myth-making”). In it, the poem’s narrator Philomythos (or “myth-lover”) addresses Misomythos (or “myth-hater”) and explains the value of myths and creative myth-making.

Tolkien begins his poem by describing what the world looks like to those who disregard “myth” and its enchanted worldview:
You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are ‘trees,’ and growing is ‘to grow’);
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.
He then goes on to show how looking at the world through the lens of myth (in its earlier sense of insight and emotion) enlivens our experience of the world:
He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jeweled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother's womb whence all have birth.
Having shown the richness and expansiveness of looking at the world this way, in an intriguing turn, Tolkien then compares the creative act of myth-making to the creative acts of God:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind…
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
Here, Tolkien endows myth-making and the creation of stories with immeasurable value, even going so far as to attribute this creative impulse to something higher than humanity. In conclusion, he writes:
In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True…
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.
Myth provides a way to explore the meaning of life, our lived experiences, and the infinite possibilities that life holds. For Tolkien, seeing the world through the eyes of myth is not only valid, it is invaluable insofar as it creates deeper ties between the author / audience and the world itself.

First editions of The Hobbit and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

It goes without saying that Tolkien whole-heartedly embraced myth in his own writings, incorporating its elements into his tales of Middle Earth. And eventually, even C.S. Lewis (the “myth-hater” himself) would come to understand the value of myth and utilize these insights as he wrote perhaps his most well-known and best-loved works, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell

Around the same time, two more scholars were devoting their lives to the study of myth. Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), a Romanian-born professor of history and religion at the University of Chicago, argued that myth was not an obstacle to the study and practice of religion, but was rather the essential foundation of religion itself. His books The Sacred and the Profane and The Myth of the Eternal Return are extensive treatments of myth, examining the role it played in the lives of ancient societies and show how these same sorts of themes continue in contemporary religions. Similarly, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) spent his entire career trying to understand why myths were so valuable to humans across time and around the globe. Campbell looked at “myth” as a global phenomenon, and in the three-volume The Masks of God, his comparative studies introduced many in the West to the beauties and significance of Eastern myths and religions, placing them in a global context. Both Eliade and Campbell laid the foundation for the academic study of myth and served to promote its value.

George Lucas (left) filming Star Wars: A New Hope

In the 1970s, a young filmmaker named George Lucas noticed that there didn’t seem to be anyone in Hollywood approaching film from the perspective of myth. Lucas explains his realization—and its effect—in the following:
The Western was possibly the last generically American fairy tale, telling us about our values. And once the Western disappeared, nothing has ever taken its place. In literature we were going off into science that's when I started doing more strenuous research on fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, and I started reading Joe [Campbell’s] books. Before that I hadn't read any of Joe's books...It was very eerie because in reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following classic I modified my next draft [of Star Wars] according to what I'd been learning about classical motifs and made it a little bit more consistent...I [then] went on to read “The Masks of God” and many other books (Stephen and Robin Larsen, Joseph Campbell: A Fire in theMind, p. 541).
At a 1985 National Arts Club banquet honoring Campbell, Lucas said something similar. Perhaps it was this conscious use of myth that resonated with audiences and contributed to the wild success of the Star Wars franchise (which has picked up even more steam recently as Disney purchased its rights and plans are underway to create even more movies set in this mythic world). After creating the original Star Wars trilogy, Lucas developed a friendship with Joseph Campbell, and before his death, most of Campbell’s final interview with Bill Moyers (“The Power of Myth”--available in video, print, or audiobook--is well worth watching/reading) was filmed at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in California.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo and me as Harrison Ford as Han Solo

The myths of Star Wars hold a special place in my heart, as it shaped the way I looked at the world. Having watched the Star Wars movies incessantly as a child, collecting its toys, and reading its related books, I started looking for adventure everywhere. From time to time, epic light saber battles would erupt between my brother, me, and my father (though sometimes I would yell “You’re not my father!”). The world around me became alive with heroes, villains, and perilous journeys. My entire world became enchanted because of myth. Unfortunately, this world became disenchanted for a time as I leaned toward logos (see my previous post on the power of stories), but after embracing anew myths and stories, my life has become more rich and much more real.

In future posts, I’ll gather some of the stories that have been most meaningful, influential, and world-enchanting for me. I’ll need your help to find more of these sorts of stories, so please come back and help me create a list of stories that can help others to recover (and maintain) an enchanted worldview.

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Man of Steel and Capitalizing on Christianity

I just wrote a brand new blog post for the John Adams Center for the Study of Faith, Philosophy and Public Affairs (which you can read here). I'm really interested to hear what you think about this really interesting tension between Hollywood and Christian churches, so please join the discussion in the comments section of that blog post!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Popes, Atheists, and the Image of God

I just wrote a guest blog post for the John Adams Center for the Study of Faith, Philosophy and Public Affairs. Check it out here.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Prodigal Story Seeker

When I was young, I lived in a world of stories. Some of my earliest and most cherished memories are of my father creating stories for my brother and me. The story that survived the longest was the ongoing adventures of Spaceman Spiff (a heroic space ship commander) and his seemingly constant battles with the Dreznaks (evil and grotesque aliens who had constantly-running noses). My brother and I were absolutely captivated by these stories and thrilled when our father would sketch scenes from these on the back of church bulletins.

As I learned to read, I kept myself immersed in stories—Star Wars movie books, comic books, and novels. Each book I read was a sort of temporary reincarnation as I experienced new lives and new worlds. Stories were part of my life throughout my youth and helped carry me through even the most difficult of times.

Near the beginning of my college career, an intense thirst for knowledge inadvertently pulled me away from my home in the world of stories. Thinking that straightforward non-fiction books and other classical literature were a more “concentrated” form of knowledge (and therefore more valuable), I focused my attention on books such as the Meditations of Marcus Arelius and the Analects of Confucius. These works had great lessons to teach me, and that fact further convinced me that non-fiction books and related literature (the more ancient, the better) were what I needed to learn as much as possible.

It wasn’t until I began graduate school that I “came to myself” and realized the wealth I had forsaken in leaving the world of stories. One of my dear friends (whom, years later, decided to marry me) began reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I had read that book on my own in 5th grade, and remembered really enjoying it. I wanted to have something to talk with her about.

So I read.

The story was as good as I remembered it, but it somehow seemed even more relevant to the world I now lived in.

In the process of finding a copy of Fahrenheit 451, I stumbled across a collection of short stories by H.G. Wells. As soon as I finished Fahrenheit 451, I started in on this one. Two stories in particular really resonated with me: “The Country of the Blind(where an overly ambitious man’s attempt to rule a hidden village of blind people ends in disaster), and “The Man Who Could Work Miracles (where an ordinary man is granted the ability to bend the world to meet his own selfish needs, with disastrous results). After I somehow—almost unconsciously—worked the moral of these stories into an everyday conversation with a friend, I began to question the stance I’d taken on stories.

Shortly thereafter, I was in the middle of reading through all of C.S. Lewis’ theological writings when I learned he had penned a science fiction trilogy. I was familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, but I’d never heard of this series. The intermingling of theology and science fiction was too intriguing for me to ignore.

In Perelandra, the story’s protagonist travels to an Edenic planet (Venus) where he meets the fairer of the planet’s two native inhabitants. She looks relatively human (despite the greenish tint to her skin, as seen in this illustration), but is surprisingly innocent. Another character arrives, bent on corrupting Venus’ Eve, and the protagonist battles to prevent this.

I was initially struck by the incredibly vivid imagery that Lewis used to describe this new world. It wasn’t until after I began thinking about the dialogues between the characters that I realized the theological and philosophical weight of their statements. Within this fictional setting, Lewis was able to explore a wide range of important topics in ways that would be near impossible in works of non-fiction. The force of this epiphany carried me back to the world of stories, which practically ran to welcome me home with open arms.

The Prodigal has returned, but he has returned a transformed man. I’ve re-immersed myself in the world of stories over the past several years, and have continued to increase in my appreciation for how stories function in people’s lives (both past and present). I’ve actually become somewhat of an advocate (or maybe an evangelist?) for the beauty and power of stories, which has bled into my professional life. For instance, last year I presented a paper at a scholarly conference proposing that instructors could easily use comic books to teach unfamiliar religious subjects, and elsewhere delivered a talk on how to use Batman to explain sacred clothing (the video of this presentation is available on iTunes here).

This is the first of a multi-part post I’m writing on the world of stories. In the following weeks (and probably months), I’ll explore the history of religious stories (or “myths”), modern uses of such stories, and the transformative nature of creating meaningful stories. Finally, I’ll wrap up this series of posts with a list of some of the stories that have impacted me most recently.

Enough of all this talk—worlds await us.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

To Enjoy the World

I recently came across an awe-inspiring time-lapse video of the earth, taken from the International Space Station. In a previous blog post on “Infinite Beauty,” I quoted from the Anglican poet Thomas Traherne (ca. 1636-1674). Perhaps unsurprisingly, as I watched this video, it reminded me of yet another of Traherne's beautiful descriptions of what an enchanted worldview looks like.

So, as prelude to the video, I present to you Thomas Traherne on enjoying the world:  

Your enjoyment of the world is never right,
till every morning you awake in Heaven;
see yourself in your Father’s Palace;
and look upon the skies, 
the earth, 
and the air 
as Celestial Joys:
having such a reverend esteem of all, 
as if you were among the Angels…

You never enjoy the world aright,
till the Sea itself floweth in your veins,
till you are clothed with the heavens,
and crowned with the stars…

Till your spirit filleth the whole world, 
and the stars are your jewels;
till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table:
till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made:
till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own:
till you delight in God for being good to all:
you never enjoy the world.

(Centuriesof Meditations, First Century, Sections 28-30)

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Moved to deal kindly

It seems as though it’s always easier to assume the worst about someone else’s motives, and to underestimate his or her capacity for goodness. I find myself falling into this path of least resistance far too frequently.

Why is that? Why isn’t it just as easy to expect the best from others and to assume more noble motives?

Some have learned how think differently. A world-renowned paleontologist, PierreTeilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was also a Jesuit priest. Somewhere along these two paths, de Chardin learned to see humanity differently. In his essay “Mass on the World” (which you can get here), he writes:
One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one — more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively — I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.

But how does one get to this vantage point? Perhaps the answer lays in understanding the goodness and capacity that lie dormant within each of us, and which each of us wrestles with from time to time.

This idea reminds me of a stanza from Mormon Apostle Orson F. Whitney's "Elias: An Epic of the Ages" (1904):
Greatness, true greatness, mightiness of mind,
And greater greatness, grandeur of the soul,
Tell but one tale — capacity, not place;
Capacity, whose sire, experience,
Whose ancestors, innate intelligence,
Original, inborn nobility,
As oft in hut as mansion have their home.

‘Tis not the crowning that creates the king.
Man's proper place where God hath need of him.
Naught can be vain that leadeth unto light ;
Struggle and stress, not plaudit, maketh strong ;
Victor and vanquished equally may win,
Climbing far heights, where fame, eternal fame,
White as the gleaming cloak of Arctic hills,
Rests as a mantle, fadeless, faultless, pure,
On loftiest lives, whose snowy peaks, sun-crowned,
Receive but to dispense their blessedness.

I think Whitney describes well the struggle that many (if not all) experience in life, as well as the beauty that can emerge from such struggles. I believe that the more we are sensitive to the fact of other's struggles, the more love we can have for them.

I recently heard a quote that seemed to express this idea: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It was attributed to Plato, but when I tried looking it up to read it in context, I discovered that the quote has also been attributed to a number of other authors.

It appears as though the germ of this idea actually comes from a fellow by the name of John Watson (see here for the full story). In his 1904 chapter on "Courtesy" in The Homely Virtues (available in its entirety here), he writes:
This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self (p. 168).
The idea, then, is to try to understand the lives of others – their hopes, their fears, their accomplishments, their losses, and their struggles. Watson goes on to say, in quite charming language:
So far as we break the bonds of self and project ourselves into the life of our brother man, we are bound to be courteous, because we shall now be interested in what is dear to him. This man also has a family and a business; this man also has had sicknesses and trials. Imagine! We must not therefore talk without ceasing about our children, our interests, our afflictions, our life. This man also has a church, and a creed, and opinions of his own, and a history. Remarkable!
It seems silly when phrased in this way, but it is nonetheless true. When we choose to invest ourselves in the lives, thoughts, and feelings of others, we “break the bonds of self” and enter another world. And the more we try to understand that world, the more we can come to see the beauty of that unique and preciously fragile world.

Citizenship in such a new world can be difficult to attain.

The views from such a new world, however, are remarkable.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Infinite Beauty

Some people are able to see and express beauty more intensively than others. Thomas Traherne (ca. 1636-1674) was one such soul. His writings and poetry emerged from a view of the world inspired by a life of worship, which resulted in Traherne becoming an Anglican clergyman. His presentation of beauty in the world was so inspiring that the Anglican Church eventually considered him a saint.

One of the Traherne stained glass windows at

the Anglican Cathedral in Hereford, England.

Here’s just one example of Traherne describing what it means to see beauty in the world:
You never enjoy the world aright; till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it. And so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it, that you had rather suffer the flames of Hell than willingly be guilty of their error. There is so much blindness and ingratitude and damned folly in it. The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God. (Centuries of Meditations, First Century, Section 31)
In light of this quote, I came across the following time-lapse video of the Aurora Borealis (the “Northern Lights”) during a recent solar flare:

Watching this video, I think I caught just a glimpse of what Traherne meant when he said that “the world is a mirror of infinite beauty.”

***You can get Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations physically here, or digitally here.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Another Way to Be

I was deeply impressed by an article I just read that describes the new Roman Catholic Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis). This impression was all the more forceful given its context in the media – most of the news articles I read leading up to the Pope’s election focused largely on negative issues surrounding the Roman Catholic church. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t at all surprising - there’s been a long history of antagonism towards Catholicism in general, and the Pope in particular. Here’s an example from a Reformation-era pamphlet:

It wasn’t just through the use of cartoon-like monsters that the image of the Catholic church and the Pope were disrespected; this attitude was perpetuated through the publication of several religious texts that served as foundations of “faith” for thousands.(1)

Now, while accusations of the Pope being the Antichrist aren’t as common nowadays, this same sort of negative sentiment has remained in the public square, in part because of occasional scandals. These are terrible, to be sure, but the actions of a few individuals often obscure the abundance of faithful, humble, and beautiful lives that Roman Catholics lead throughout the world.

It seems as though Pope Francis is just what the public needs to renew its trust and – dare I say – faith in the Catholic church, an organization that has done an incredible amount of good for the world. According to the article I mentioned above, “[Pope Francis] loves the poor and not in an abstract way. He gave the cardinal's palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order with no money. He lives in an apartment, cooks his own food, rides the bus. He rejects pomposity. He does not feel superior. He is a fellow soul.”

The archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, washes the feet of an unidentified woman on Holy Thursday at the Buenos Aires' Sarda maternity hospital on March 24, 2005.

My first exposure to the new Pope’s namesake – St. Francis of Assisi – was in my grandparent’s garden, where his statue stood among overgrown plants and thriving weeds. The statue itself had been stained by nature and was covered in small craters (the result of repeated target practice). As a child, I wondered how something that was supposed to be holy could be left to ruin. Answer: the statue was neglected, and apathy allowed for abuse.

This became all the more heartbreaking to me when I started learning about St. Francis and what he stood for. One of the best-known statements attributed to St. Francis is the following prayer (this particular version was delivered by Mother Theresa before the United Nations in 1985): 

Make us worthy Lord to serve our fellow men throughout the world,

who live and die in poverty and hunger.

Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread

and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace,

That where there is hatred I may bring love,

That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,

That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,

That where there is error I may bring truth,

That where there is doubt I may bring faith,

That where there is despair I may bring hope,

That where there are shadows I may bring light,

That where there is sadness I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted,

To understand than to be understood,

To love than to be loved.

For it is by forgetting self that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Even if this prayer was not written by St. Francis, it certainly represents his ideals. He wanted to be a creative force in the face of destruction – to edify that which had been torn down. Again, from the article I mentioned above: 

One of the most famous moments in St. Francis's life is the day he was passing by the church of St. Damiano. It was old and near collapse. From St. Bonaventure's “Life of Francis of Assisi”: “Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray. Kneeling before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with great fervor and consolation. . . . While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord's cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times: ‘Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.’” Francis was amazed “at the sound of this astonishing voice, since he was alone in the church.” He set himself to obeying the command.

Like St. Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio – now Pope Francis – is in a unique position to rebuild and repair the image of the Roman Catholic church. A life forged in service and tempered by modesty has created a weapon of peace – the only possible way to counteract the effects of hate and destruction. Noticing this remarkable characteristic of humility in Pope Francis, one observer noted:

That is more than strength…This is not cynical humanity. This is showing there is another way to be.

This man is living proof that we don’t need to inherit the idea that strength, power, and prestige means influence and importance. We can choose to build up, create, and give life to people, ideas, and movements. We can repair the world.

May we all choose this “other way.” 

Read this inspiring article in its entirety here.


1) Case in point – Protestant Reformation figurehead John Calvin’s Institutes contains the following passage: “Shall we recognise the Apostolic See where we see nothing but horrible apostacy? Shall he be the vicar of Christ who, by his furious efforts in persecuting the Gospel, plainly declares himself to be Antichrist? Shall he be the successor of Peter who goes about with fire and sword demolishing everything that Peter built?. Shall he be the Head of the Church who, after dissevering the Church from Christ, her only true Head, tears and lacerates her members? Rome, indeed, was once the mother of all the churches, but since she began to be the seat of Antichrist she ceased to be what she was” (Institutes IV, 7:24).