Wanted: Someone to inflame the romantic imagination of Christianity

Baptism of St Francis (Cathedral of San Rufino, Assisi)

Wanted: Someone to inflame the romantic imagination of Christianity
From Ron Rolheiser

[We] need a new Francis of Assisi: We need someone, man or woman, who can re-inflame the romantic imagination of Christianity. Francis was a saint, but he was more than that. He was also a man of rare imagination. He was someone who, like a great artist, could reshape the collective imagination. What Francis was able to do, among other things of course, was to give to the world a new and a more attractive vision of how Christianity is connected to nature, how a life of simplicity itself can be an aesthetic, and how the altruism which lies at the heart of Jesus’ message can be more attractively imaged and lived. What he said, did, and founded became, almost instantly, something analogous to a great work of art, it drew people to itself and inflamed their imaginations. Hundreds of years later, it is still doing the same thing. But his images no longer fire the imagination as powerfully as they once did. We need a new Francis, a post-modern man or woman, who can again inflame the romantic imagination of world in the same way that Francis once did. This is badly needed in an age that all but militates against simplicity, altruism, and nature. In a time of morally-authorized greed, where celebrity is divinity, and where restlessness and grandiosity have been taken to new levels, in a world of high-rise living, some great artist must again show us that what we really want is to live simply, altruistically, and in harmony with nature.

34 thoughts on “Wanted: Someone to inflame the romantic imagination of Christianity

  1. I don’t think its a bad idea to be a ‘temporary’ monk or nun. It may be beneficial when you’re 20 and not when you’re 40, or vice versa.

    In Buddhist cultures, it’s not that unusual for someone to become a “temporary monk or nun” for a year or three. Locally in Cambodian communities, it’s also a way to get young people out of gangs.


  2. I think it is a worthy goal.

    We need MUCH MORE imagination for the future we are facing.

    But how to scale that Imagination without it becoming another yet another Annual Conference? That also requires imagination.

    I believe we need a Christian equivalent of the Strong Towns movement.


  3. “to live simply, unselfishly, in harmony with nature”

    I can recommend Damaris Zehner’s blog for inspiration


  4. But under that word is a Christian phrase that nobody seems to grasp anymore, much less be able to live out (beyond the confines of their own family and friends): ‘self-sacrifice’


  5. In my neck of the woods (Boston) there are dozens of Christian intentional communities that are healthy and thriving, none of which orbit around a strong “personality.” The key is recruiting people for your community who want to share power and do things by consensus, instead of people who need to be in charge.


  6. Yes to this too, I know some really good working communities, i.e. L’Abri & The Northumbria Community, that get on with it quietly & make a big difference.

    I know lots of families that have lived together for years in small intentional groups, that seemed to go well too.


  7. I do like your “temporary” religious calling idea. People should get a chance to re-evaluate their choices every once in a while.


  8. A figure in our world today who is a little like Francis with regard to spiritual stature is Thich Nhat Hanh. He is, however, is Buddhist, not Christian. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace — where there is hatred, let me sow love — where there is injury, pardon …”


  9. I don’t think its a bad idea to be a ‘temporary’ monk or nun. It may be beneficial when you’re 20 and not when you’re 40, or vice versa.

    People live longer now, so both marriage and the religious calling as a permanent, fixed category have been rendered significantly more difficult.

    Let’s not be entirely cynical or faithless.


  10. and yet there are among these communities some that give us hope for a time, and that is a gift, a ‘glimpse’ if you will, of ‘the Kingdom’
    . . . so we are sustained in His care, even in this place where suffering is.

    There was an incident some decades ago at Nickel Mines when a man who was suffering from a psychosis came to an Amish school house and shot and killed some children.
    Then something happened.
    The Amish forgave. They came to support the widow of the murderer and befriended her. They cared for her and her children.

    We don’t ‘understand’. But that’s not the point.

    Seeing this, for a while, we can hold on a bit longer until He returns to us or we go to Him in the world beyond this Earth. There is a Christian word for what the Amish did: ‘witness’


  11. That would be wonderful, Adam, but I’m not sure that those 10,000 presumably anonymous little Francises would “inflame the imagination of Christianity” the way the one big Francis did; but then again, maybe inflaming the imagination of Christianity is not a worthy goal, despite the wish for it in the title of this post.


  12. great comment, Stephen

    ” . . . . . He felt it building from the blood of Abel to his own, rising and spreading in the night, a red-gold tree of fire ascended as if it would consume the darkness in one tremendous burst of flame. The boy’s breath went out to meet it. He knew that this was the fire that had encircled Daniel, that had raised Elijah from the earth, that had spoken to Moses and would in the instant speak to him. He threw himself to the ground and with his face against the dirt of the grave, he heard the command.

    Flannery O’Connor
    (‘The Violent Bear It Away’)


  13. I wish them joy–and luck. I wonder how many of those 20-somethings will still be nuns when they’re 40-somethings? There is a huge difference in the way you think when you’re 20 and the way you think when you’re 40.


  14. > It’s not strictly either/or.

    Agree. It is, given the current givens, REALLY hard to get “transformative” upstream. 😦


  15. “It isn’t so much the need for another St. Francis, IMO, but today it is the need for 100,000 little Francises who are happy to stay in their own place and love it deeply.”

    I agree Adam.
    Yes, a thousand times this, each of us in little ways and nudges that have the power to change the course of human events.


  16. I agree. One of the most important lessons Jesus ever taught, IMO, is that we need to trust in the small, hidden work of God, such as these communities represent.

    But I do like what Rolheiser is saying here too. There is a place for transformative leadership by example and inspiration: for Eugene Petersons and Henri Nouwens and Kathleen Norrises, etc., to gain a hearing and to capture the imagination of others. It’s not strictly either/or.


  17. You know, that always sounds so good Michael and David; but these communities inevitably become fiefdom’s of strong personalities and then blow sky high down the road.


  18. But how could such a thing be accomplished? Would we recognize it if it came? And if we recognized it might it not appear in the guise of that which we fear the most?

    For he is like a refiner’s fire…


  19. In some ways the neo-monastic movement is doing this – Christians choosing to live in community with each other, living lives of deep interdependence, common prayer, and of voluntary simplicity.

    Maybe what our current age needs is not some new breed of Christian celebrity, and not one particular person who captures people’s imagination, but rather whole communities of Christians living quiet and humble lives in a way that shows the world that “the quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.” (Ecc 9:17)


  20. > leave no room for such a life to take hold?

    There is plenty of room. However under the w-i-d-e umbrella of the internet-enabled over-culture nothing can “Scale Up”; as soon as something breaks out of its niche, neighborhood, or enclave it will be assimilated and monetized.

    It isn’t so much the need for another St. Francis, IMO, but today it is the need for 100,000 little Francises who are happy to stay in their own place and love it deeply.

    Maybe that is more hopeful, maybe that is less hopeful, I haven’t honestly decided yet.


  21. Is there room, is there any open space left, for a figure of Francis’ spiritual stature in our postmodern world? Or does it snuff out the possibility of a life so spiritually expansive by depriving it of the physical space and spiritual oxygen it needs at birth? Does postmodernity’s monetization of every available nook leave no room for such a life to take hold?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: