‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’ [Marcel Proust]

i am about a third of the way through reading the book ‘Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale’ by Ian Morgan Cron and already trying to figure out in my head how i am going to get hold of ten copies of it to pass on to that person and that person and maybe you… but seriously, whether you are a Jesus follower or not, i would seriously recommend opening a new tab on your computer/phone right now and purchasing a copy, whether to be delivered to your house or your reading app. This is a classic.

As the quote suggests at the top, sometimes we don’t need to be somewhere new, we just need to see some ways new. And this book about a church minister who suddenly has a crisis of faith and feels completely abandoned by God and then sets off to visit his Uncle Kenny who is a Franciscan friar to be led on a pilgrimage in Italy, retracing the life and words of Francis of Assisi.

‘Sitting in the church, I was struck by the simple elegance of Francis [of Assisi]’s strategy of ministry – simply read the gospel texts and live the life you find in its pages. What a concept! I wondered what Francis would say if he were the main speaker at a church growth conference? Would anyone take him seriously?’

Sho. i mean this is it, really. Talk about the crisis we have in South Africa [insert your own country] right now and WHAT CAN WE DO? And i would say that if even only the people who called themselves christians in our country changed the way they did christianity to what is suggested in that quote, the whole country would be revolutionised. It’s hard to cling to selfishness, greed and self-preservation when trying to live out the words and life of Jesus, and aren’t those three of the absolute giants that are holding us back?

Imagine if we adopted the stance of the servant king who got down on His hands and knees and washed off the absolute filth and grime from His disciples’ feet before they shared a meal together. What would that do for race relations in South Africa? What effect might that have on the class distinctions and wealth divides?

‘The world is so hungry for God that God could only come as a piece of bread. We so long for joy that God even risked coming into the world in the form of intoxication, that risky thing called wine.’

[Re-interpretation of communion/Eucharist by Gandhi]

What if any of us had a Zacchaeus epiphony moment and responded by opening our wallets, bank and savings accounts?

i think this book would be appealing to those who don’t call themselves ‘christian’ as it is an honest struggle of a man who held on to something in a certain way and then watched it crumble around him. It’s not like where i am in the book he has found his faith again, but he definitely has started to see some stuff through some new eyes.

DISCOVERING GOD THROUGH THE ARTS

The lead character, Chase, describes an encounter he has with Liam Cudder, a British musicologist [and also an ordained priest] who gives a lecture that he attends after meeting an amazing cellist called Carla Mellini in a random bookstore encounter in Italy.

During the lecture:

‘Cudder leafed through his notes. He found the page he was looking for.

“In Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak describes one of this main characters like this: ‘Lara was not religious. She did not believe in ritual. But sometimes, to be able to bear life, she needed the accompaniment of an inner music. She could not always compose such a music for herself. That music was God’s word of life, and it was to weep over it that she went to church.’ What was it about music that awakened the spiritual in Pasternak’s Lara? It was this: the object of all great art is beauty, and it makes us nostalgic for God. Whether we consider ourselves people of faith or not, art arouses in us what the pope calls ‘a universal desire for redemption.'”

After the lecture, Liam invites Chase and Carla to have a meal with him and so a few pages later:

Carla covered her mouth and laughed. Liam flagged down one of the waiters and pointed to our empty champagne bottle. The waiter nodded and ran to the cellar to get another.

“I came to faith in a Baptist tradition that was suspicious of anything having to do with the imagination,” he continued. “They thought it was the source of all kinds of evil ideas and impulses. And, to some degree, that is true. The depraved imagination has the capacity to dream up all sorts of dreadful things, but we threw the baby out with the bathwater. We did not recognise that the redeemed imagination was capable of producing works of beauty that revealed the Glory.”

Carla winced. “My parents think the arts are trivial. They say you should go to church to get good teaching, not a sonata,” Carla said.

Cudder politely wiped his mouth. “That is ironic, really. First, the Bible is a great literary work of art filled with poetry, songs, stories, parables, history, apocalyptic drama, and wisdom literature. Second the very people who pride themselves on being focused on the Word often come perilously close to practicing a form of Gnosticism that overvalues the spiritual and eschews the material. But the Word became flesh! The Incarnation proves that the divine can be communicated through the material – colour, sound, texture, words printed on paper, the movement of the body.”

They continue talking:

Her expression became pensive. “So maybe I should go back to church?” she asked.

“Now would be the time,” he replied.

“Why now?” I asked.

“The church is realising there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the postmodern imagination and they have to awaken it. The arts can do this. All beauty is subversive; it flies under the radar of people’s critical filters and points them to God. As a friend of mine says, ‘When the front door of the intellect is shut, the back door of the imagination is open.’ Our neglect of the power of beauty and the arts helps explain why so many people have lost interest in church. Our coming back to the arts will help renew that interest.”

Carla was spellbound. I tried to imagine what she was thinking. Liam was confirming something she’d probably known all along: her parents were wrong. It was a moment of exoneration. 

A lightbulb seemed to go off in Carla’s head. “It’s like speaking in tongues,” she said.

Liam’s fork froze halfway between his plate and his mouth. “I’m sorry?” he asked.

Carka sat up straight. “Art, music, dance, theater, literature, film – they’re all a way of speaking in tongues.”‘

“Of course!” I said. “They’re spiritual languages that communicate truths about God that human language doesn’t have words to express. That’s why the church needs to rediscover them.”

“What a brilliant way to put it,” Cudder said. 

And more… but you’re REALLY going to have to get the book.

Especially if you are someone who has been struggling with feeling like God feels so very far away. Although even if you are not, the book is easy reading and has given me a real sense of the “Be still and know that I am God” that draws me closer to Him. It has brought tears or close tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.

And i’m going to end this off now cos i can’t wait to get back to it!

Chasing Francis quote