In considering the narratives of Francis and Clare, we tend to notice all that they gave
up: wealth, comfort, and ease. For Francis, the popularity and admiration of his peers
that disposable income gave him. For Clare, the stability and prominence of her noble
family, with its elegant ways and powerful influence.
But I am convinced that they did not feel that they had given up anything. They lived in
the fruition of all that they had gained: simplicity of spirit, clarity of vision, the intrinsic
rewards of fidelity and integrity, the knowledge that they were participating in the growth
of something bigger than themselves, that they were instruments in the extension of
grace into the world around them. All of this brought a serenity to which they could
return inwardly, even when the challenges of life assailed them.
Clare speaks of this as “a great and praiseworthy exchange: to receive the hundred-fold
in place of one, and to possess a blessed eternal life” as we come to know that “it is not
possible to serve God and money, for either the one is loved and the other hated, or the
one is served and the other despised; that one clothed cannot fight another naked,
because she who has something to be caught hold of is more quickly thrown to the
ground.” (Clare of Assisi, First Letter to Agnes of Prague)
Both Francis and Clare use their own emptiness to create space—space for God in their
lives, space for the presence and love of God in the human community. Paradoxically,
they begin to experience space as not empty but full. This is not a process that they (or
we) can engage on our own. They ask for enlightenment, they seek to be instruments
of something greater than themselves. And in that profoundly humble and generous
space, they discover a peace that the world cannot give, a fullness and richness that is
dearer than any gift. This richness comes not because they have “left the world,” but
because they have learned a relational way of being that empowers the whole of their
personhood and creates rich moments of shared presence in their daily lives.
Knowing that we are not alone and will never be alone, that we are held in love at every
moment, is an empowering knowledge. We may not be in full possession of that
awareness at every moment, but, with repeated experiences of the multiple ways that
God accompanies us even in our emptiness, we can return to the deeper knowledge of
God’s loving presence and extend that presence into a hurting world. We can allow our
own emptiness to become a space for an incarnate knowledge that we are deeply loved
to take root and grow.