Thursday, November 6, 2014
My own peace I give to you, My own peace I leave with you . . . Day 4 Theological Reflection . . .
Today was a day of finishing, of reporting, of good-bye’s, and of a spiritual journey. We finished up the purpose of our work before lunch today. Each group presented its focus at the Anglican Communion, Province/diocese, and parish/congregational level. We tried to be specific and present measurable goals, cognizant of the fact that, for many of our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion, the fight is just starting, even as some of us veterans report back. Once we settled on the action/goals of our P’s, those tasked with reporting out to the world headed over to the Anglican Center for the worldwide webinar. Upon their return, we learned that far more sites were logged on that we’s ever hoped! Once the presentation was discussed, we our group began to splinter a bit. Some began their journeys home this afternoon, while others left to take advantage of the trip and visit friends located in this part of the world. The rest of us packed and readied ourselves for the coach ride to Assisi.
Archbishop David selected Assisi as our “debriefing” point because it is the only city in the world associated with peace. The outward and visible those of the city is one of peace. Francis and Catherine are paired as saints, held in a tension reflective of the tension in the world, but also mirroring the peace we are called to bring to our brothers and sisters. Assisi is also recognized by all the world’s religions as the city of peace. Though their gathering every ten years belies the fact that there are wars and atrocities such as slavery occurring in our midst, their gathering reminds us both of our call and of what is possible. Lastly, Assisi is famous for its call for humanity to be at peace with nature and to bring peace to nature.
Although Francis is often associated as the saint of birdbaths, we were told to expect to see a number of statues and paintings with Francis and wolves. Though this side is lesser known of Francis, it is likely more true. There is a town to the north of Assisi called Gubio that, in the twelfth century, was being harassed by a giant wolf during the dead of winter. Chickens and piglets began to disappear in sufficient number that the townsfolk feared the wolf would begin attacking humans, their children in particular. According to the legend, just as the townfolk were getting ready to head out with their torches, pikes, and spears, Francis appeared. He entreated the villagers not to go kill the wolf. The wolf, he said, was too cunning. They would never catch it or kill it, and it would devour their children in its anger.
After some argument, the villagers asked Francis what he would do about the problem. He said he would go and speak to the wolf to see why he was so angry. As we might expect, Francis found the wolf, which began to run at him very aggressively. Francis made the sign of the cross between himself and the charging wolf, and the wolf stopped, whimpered, placed its paws on Francis’ feet, and laid down at his feet. Francis then led the wolf back down the hill to the town, where the wolf became the guard dog for the town and protected it against all predators, animal or human.
To those of us in the enlightened west, the story smacks of legend and fairy tale. The Franciscans, of course, tell us that the truth does not matter nearly so much as the outcome. Their story says that Francis approached the wolf with bits and pieces of meat. As Francis was not big on bathing and not scared of animals, the wolf did not associate him with the villagers. Instead of the cross, Francis tossed the wolf a bit of meat and then scampered up a tree as it ate. From there, he probably continued to toss it the meat he had brought. Once the wolf was full and left, Francis headed down the tree and back into the village. The process was likely repeated for several weeks. At some point, no doubt, the wolf began to associate Francis with food. At that point in their relationship, Francis could simply feed the feral wolf and stay out of the tree. Once Francis was satisfied that the wolf had been domesticated, he led it back into town. Since it associated the human with food, it treated the other humans like its pack. As they fed and interacted with the great wolf, it began to defend and protect the villagers of Gubio.
Perhaps the second story seems as fanciful as the first. There is, however, one piece of concrete history with which the unbeliever must deal: some years ago, when the altar in the church was being moved for renovation, the workers discovered the skeleton of a giant wolf had been placed under the altar. Carbon dating placed the age of the bones at around the 12th Century. By whatever means it happened, a great wolf was buried under the altar of the church of the town of Grubio, a town reportedly protected by a fierce, gigantic wolf! It is also why the Franciscans teach us that we must learn to tame the wolves within ourselves. Only by taming our anxieties, our fears, our hatred, our animalistic attitudes can we ever hope to be a family! Only by taming that wild wolf within us can we ever hope to achieve peace in ourselves, in our relationships with each other, and with the world.
Why did we focus on this story and not the birdbaths? Those of us who gathered this week at the behest of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have been dealing with wolves on behalf of those villagers we have left in relative safety. Some of us have ministered among the wolves; while all of us have ministered among those who have suffered at the fangs and teeth of the wolves. All of us gathered could speak to the terror, the hurt, the despair, and the isolation of those being preyed upon by society’s wolves. We even know the stories of countless other “Francises” in our lives, who journey out of the relative safety of the village and into the dark, inhospitable woods. How are we, and how are those whom we serve ever to find peace? Perhaps even more importantly, how do we civilize the wolves we know, the wolves we have met, that peace might grow ever more present in the world around us?
As David shared the story of Francis and the wolf, I could not help but see the face of Bennie. Of Johnnie. Of any number of those who employ the services of sex workers thinking the girls “like it” or “they can tell” whether she is enslaved. Of the gangs of beggars and panhandlers who grift for fear of their lives and the enrichment of their masters. Of the momasan in the “massage parlor”? Of those who have worked hard to drive me out of places where the piglets and chickens are being devoured all the time. Even of those vultures, our politicians, who care not from whence their scraps come, only that they get theirs. And I wondered, do I have the courage of Francis to make the cross and expect them to be transformed before its power? Do I have the plan to give them crusts of His broken body, trusting that one day they will become the defenders of our village? It is that peace we seek, that peace for which we strive—the peace that passes all understanding, that dwells within us, and is made visible through our faithful obedience to Him!