Thursday, 25 July 2013

Who am I, O God, and who are you?

St Francis by Dorothy Woodward

The wonderfully elemental illustration above, can be found on the Franciscan Tertiary webpage. According the the 'Little Flowers of St Francis', there's a question that St Francis repeatedly asked in prayer, in his long retreats on his favourite mountainside, which goes something like 'who am I, O God, and who are you?' It seems like a really fundamental question to me, and one I reflect on in the last chapter of Rejoice with Me.
St Francis himself is famous for a prayer in which he added lots of attributes and epithets to describe God. It's a beautiful prayer, and some say, inspired by his encounter with Islam and the devotion to the 99 Beautiful Names of Allah.

You are the holy Lord God
Who does wonderful things.
You are strong. You are great. You are the most high.
You are the almighty king. You holy Father,
King of heaven and earth.

You are three and one, the Lord God of gods;
You are the good, all good, the highest good,
Lord God living and true.

You are love, charity; You are wisdom, You are humility,
You are patience. You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are security, You are rest,
You are gladness and joy, You are our hope, You are justice,
You are moderation, You are all our riches to sufficiency...

The Praises of God and the Blessing

It seems Francis was spilling over with things to say about God, but in describing himself, it is said he called himself a 'worm'. It's quite popular to liken ourselves to creatures, or even to identify with animals in a totemic way, with those which have qualities we especially value. Wolves, bears, eagles, horses, leopards, these are popular, but I've not heard many people claiming an affinity or identity with worms.
Yet, on our little altar at home in the prayer room, there's a bowl of garden soil and it's as healthy as it is because of the digestive work of worms. I picked one up the other day, off scorching hot tarmac during our week of summer sun. It squirmed in my hand all the way down the road until I found a patch of shady earth - brother worm, I thought fondly, as St Francis would call it. But then, maybe it should be brother-sister worm, or sister-brother worm, since they are, after all hermaphrodite. 
Sometimes, it seems, when we try to label, categorise or define ourselves and others, we get in a tangle. We get in a tangle when we try to define Supreme Being too. According to Exodus 3:14, God anticipated this and offered help by giving a divine name of utter genius which is simply a statement of existence: I AM. There's something to be said  for just being, and letting others just be - it may even be a quality of the Divine.

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