Saturday, May 09, 2009

Holy Poverty of St. Francis of Assisi and the Sufis

"We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want." - Lao Tzu

"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
- Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount and forever blessed those who embrace Holy Poverty for God's sake.

While they were hastening to the heights with easy steps, behold Lady Poverty, standing on the top of the mountain. Seeing them climb with such strength, almost flying, she was quite astonished. 'It is a long time since I saw and watched people so free of all burdens.' And so Lady Poverty greeted them with rich blessings. 'Tell me brothers, what is the reason for your coming here and why do you come so quickly from the valley of sorrows to the mountain of light?'

They answered: 'We wish to become servants of the Lord of hosts because He is the King of glory. So, kneeling at your feet, we humbly beg you to agree to live with us and be our way to the King of glory, as you were the way when the dawn from on high came to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death'.

- from Sacrum Commercium, an early Franciscan treatise on Holy Poverty

"The key to the vision of St. Francis to willingly embrace poverty can only be understood in the context of the revelation of the lived word of holy scripture. He experiences God while he is in the lowliest state. It is that very state that brings the intensity of awareness of God's goodness and holiness. St. Francis willingly embraces the penance (holy repentance, what sufis call tawbah), not only for his own sins, but for the sinfulness of mankind (fall from their mark or true station of loftiness). This is a constant, recurring motif in his life. Instead of focusing on our sinfulness, it produces a profound humility and gratitude for the holiness and goodness of God. St. Francis walked in the footsteps of Jesus, who emptied himself and accepted a supreme penance out of love for mankind."

- From: Through the Year with Francis of Assisi, Daily Meditations from His Words and Life Selected and translated by Murray Bodo, O.F.M.

No law will ever abolish poverty.
No revolution will ever abolish poverty.
Poverty will never be abolished as long as anybody loves riches.
Poverty will never be abolished until the whole world becomes voluntarily poor.

One thing, however, is certain: if I pretend to love God, and if I don't feed the poor, heal the sick, clothe the needy - how do I know my love is any love at all? To feed the poor is not only a counsel - it is part of the first of all commandments, "Love one another."

- Thomas Merton, from the Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume One

Whatever we may do to try and alleviate the suffering of the poor, we will not grasp the root of the problem, until the world becomes voluntarily poor, which is what St. Francis did when he embraced it voluntarily as a way of life. He entered into the suffering with them to be present in the purity of a love that produced the phrase of "holy poverty."

It is the poverty of our own emptiness that allows divine intention to manifest love through us, for it is the source out of which all love flows.

- Naomi Stone

The timeless principle of true spirituality of St. Franics of Assisi, which is also the way of the sufis is summarized in the work, The Peace of St. Francis:

"St. Francis exerted an irresistible attraction by being learned with the learned, simple with the simple, chivalrous with the chivalrous, most poor among the poor, accusing always himself and never others, castigating the sins and never the persons... surpassing all and yet holding himself to be the least among all. His entire person was a sermon just as his entire life was an example."

To be simple with the simple, being learned with the learned, to be chivalrous are the work on the sufi path. To embrace poverty as holy poverty is the path of the sufis. In sufi path this Holy Poverty is meant by the term Faqr which is also translated as Spiritual Poverty. Spiritual Poverty is a cornerstone of classical Sufi practice. The term faqir (poor man or woman) is often used as a synonym for Sufi and darvish among the Sufis.

In sufi knowledge it is also seen or described as a maqam or station for the seeker which one must arrive in the journey. The Holy Poverty or the maqām of Faqr, in which one asserts one's independence of worldly possessions and his need of God alone. The station before Holy Poverty or Faqr is the station of Zuhd or Holy Renunciation. The maqām of Zuhd (renunciation, or detachment), which means that the person is devoid of possessions and his heart is without acquisitiveness. And after Faqr is the station of Sabr or the Art of Holy Patience.

My Lord and my God, take everything from me that separates me from Thee. My Lord and my God, give everything to me that brings me nearer to Thee. My Lord and my God, take me from myself, and give me completely to Thee.

- St. Nicholas of Flueli

Let us desire nothing else
let us wish for nothing else
let nothing else please us and cause us delight
except our Creator and Redeemer and Saviour,
the One True God, Who is the Fullness of Good,
all good, every good, the true and supreme Good;
Let nothing hinder us, nothing separate us or nothing come between us.

- Prayerful words written by St Francis

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