The Mysticism of Saint Francis
Throughout religious history, the Christian monk, Saint Francis of Assisi, continues to capture our imagination. His life and good works still remain a beacon of light for us today, guiding seekers from all traditions along the spiritual path of compassion, service and love. The story of his life exemplifies the transformative power of the Mystic tradition -- the course of his actions continuously immersed in mystic rapture. His faith was never about reason and logic, but about ecstatic love. For Francis, religious dogma and philosophical debate were mere stepping stones to a greater spiritual realization, he emphatically embraced that which goes beyond any mundane sense of reasoning.
The life trajectory of Saint Francis was the embodiment of the mystic experience. Of this he tells us:
“Nothing is nearer to us than heaven. The earth is beneath our feat and we tread upon it, but heaven is within us.”
For Francis, the divine was ever present within and without, he lived and breathed the celestial experience.
Like mystics before and after him, Saint Francis was a rebel in his faith and his love. His life course teaches us that the spiritual militant's greatest worth is not virtue, but the imperfections which fuel the struggle to transform negative desires into virtue. He transformed all of his difficulties, his mistakes and imperfections into teachings. His liabilities became his greatest assets.
Understanding the nature of our own imperfections is the source of our deepest, most authentic sense of humility.
Saint Francis was born into a wealthy Catholic family in Italy during the 12th century, and personified this notion of humility. Like the historical Buddha, Francis was born into great material wealth, indulged in every worldly way, and then went on to reject it all for a spiritual way of life.
In order to fully comprehend the transformational power of the mystical experience in the life of Saint Francis, we must first understand exactly what Mysticism is. Mysticism - is knowing that you don't know. It is standing naked and vulnerable before life with the deepest humility. It is to perceive what is behind and below the surface of all things. It is ultimate awareness of an infinite universe, nurtured through an open mind and heart. It is the intuitive understanding of the incomprehensible nature of the human mind. It is “Thou Art That”, the direct experience free from conceptualization. It is the letting go of the smallness of beliefs for the awe of the great mystery.
Saint Francis was able to manifest the mystical experience in his life through a practical application of the divine in all areas of his life. He consistently experienced and promoted a sense of reverence for animal life and the natural world, his ecstatic love for all creation was and is an inspiration. In this, Francis continues to be an inspiration to those in the modern day environmental movement, proving to be the mystic saint for our troubled times. His heart was forever embracing everyone and everything around him.
This was the mystical experience of Saint Francis. As he spiritually embraced the mystery of the world each day, he increasingly became aware of his own immeasurable love and compassion. His mystical experience transformed his mundane life into the miraculous experience of a saint. His life is emblematic of this classic poem by Ken Wilber:
“It is the nothing, the Mystery, the Emptiness
That needs to be realized:
Not known but felt, not thought but breathed,
Not an object but an atmosphere.”