One noteworthy quote of St. Francis in his first order speaks to me with a reproach–both of me and of Modern Americans in general:
Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
I think of my many, many books and CDs (a subject which annoys my mother as well), and I think how the patient monk would have shaken his head at my stubborn resistance to live the life of his messiah. Nonetheless, I believe I have my own path to holiness, based on the path of scholarship, of which The Complete Francis of Assisi is but a small drop in the bucket… Judaism teaches a thirst for knowledge which leads Jews on our own path to salvation.
My own dream, my path to those things I have always wanted–worldly fame and self-reliance but also… to bring people who have fallen astray back to God, and helping people to understand that religion is a way of peace and not war. I want to believe that all religions have something to say… but that in believing such a person need not give up on their own way of praying to the One they believe in. That St. Francis and the Dali Lama represent two equally valid ways of salvation is me… perhaps most people accept this without thinking, but the way I was raised was very intolerant.
I remember actually being told that, “If Mother Teresa believes it is her works that get her to Heaven, she will go straight to heck,” by a religious paternal Grandma whose faith did little enough for other people outside of her own family. I did love her, but I found her faith cruel. I think that is a large part in why I gave up on Jesus: I could no longer find love in a man that I believe doubtlessly did love his disciples–and perhaps others–so I finally moved on twice: in the 6th and 7th grade in Middle School I was an atheist and in my first semester sophomore year of college I did not know what I believed in. Eventually–at 21–I found my way to Judaism. Nonetheless, I do believe that like most Jews, most Christians probably go to Heaven. As the Talmud says, “The Righteous of the Nations shall be saved.” I just couldn’t believe in Christianity myself. Yet I still believe I could learn from St. Francis…
I plan to use his personality in a children’s book I am working on: Jeanie and the Gentlefolk. I am also mentioning as two of his “friends” Rabia (the female founder of Sufism); Hillel (the founder of rabbinic Judaism); and the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidism). I also hope to reach across the world to Seven Daoist Masters (a Chinese folk novel with six men and one woman achieving self-mastery); and Japanese tales of Judge Ooka (a legendary judge known for his wisdom and fairness). I hope to have Scheherazade and perhaps other figures from The 1001 Nights in the book. For Hinduism I plan to read the entirety of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Of course, I have another project to finish first: a two novella book The Firebird Unchained/ Grandmother tells a Story of Ukraine in the Winter. The first story is about an author who writes in Communist Russia despite the Censor. He left Russia after Communism, but feels tainted by the fact that what he wrote were not his true views: he could not out-and-out say that in the one story he most wanted to publish that Stalin was the rat, that the rat destroyed Russia spiritually and not just physically, etc. As for the second story, it is a story where a Ukrainian grandmother tells her grandchild about another time of suffering in Ukraine: under Stalin. However–alas–it will be a while before I can write these stories; I am doing “research.” Yet it will be done, I am sure of it, and I am sure–somehow–that nobody reading these stories on my sight will “steal” them.
I feel in my writing I am somehow like St. Francis. I just don’t know how–perhaps I am only a follower while he was a leader, and yet perhaps I travel in Akiba’s or the Besht’s footsteps.