This May, I am a guest on the St. Francis Heart Full of Love pilgrimage to Assisi, hosted by Dancing Spirit Tours. On the pilgrimage, I will give a 3-day Love & Enneagram retreat, which features the work of St. Francis, Rumi, Tagore, and other great mystics and saints.
Saint Francis is knocking on my door. He’s everywhere I am. He appears on my Facebook page, he’s quoted in articles I’m sent, my daughter Bo is learning about him at school, and he constantly pops into my mind throughout the day. I imagine it has something to do with my excitement about the St. Francis tour. In my experience,
a pilgrimage begins the moment you say yes to it, even before you travel.
Recently, I’ve incorporated the St. Francis Prayer into my daily spiritual practice. Sometimes I recite it myself, and other times I listen to it sung by others. James Twyman, and also Deva Premal and Miten, sing two of my favorite renditions. Like all great prayers, the St. Francis Prayer is both a spiritual practice and a powerful spiritual teaching. The more you recite the prayer, the more it lives in you. It teaches you something every time you pray it.
1. Divine Surrender
The St. Francis Prayer is the ego’s song of surrender to the divine. We pray it so as to attune ourselves to our true Self, and to be an instrument used by the divine. The opening line reminds me of the first beatitude given by Jesus: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We come to the divine with an open mind and open heart. Of ourselves we are nothing; the divine is everything. The ego is just an appearance; the soul is our true identity.
There is barely a greater joy than being used as an instrument for a great love. Each time I sit down to write something for a book or newsletter, for example, I recite my Writing Prayer. The short version is: “I am a pencil in God’s hands. I am here to write Love Letters from God to everyone in the world. God is ready to write and therefore so am I. All I do is listen. And take notes. And enjoy the process. Amen.”
2. Positive Denial
The St. Francis Prayer is a statement of positive denial. It affirms the power of love over fear. It reminds us that no amount of hatred is greater than our innate capacity to love; that there is no injury that cannot be healed by forgiveness; and that doubts and fears, however persistent, cannot extinguish the flame of holy faith in us. We are the Light of the World, and so a dark night of the soul is really a dark night of the ego. Joy is our spiritual DNA, and it has the power to raise us out of despair.
“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows,” said St. Francis. In reciting the St. Francis Prayer, we experience this positive denial. We hand over our difficulties to a power greater than our ego; and we feel the power of love. The hatred, injury, doubts, despair and sadness assume their true proportion in relation to love. Eventually they disappear into love, because only love is real.
3. Ending the Search
To seek implies that you will find what you are looking for. But to seek is not the same as to see. In fact, seeking can be a mind-set that causes a far-sightedness that prevents you from seeing what’s already here. When I created The Happiness Project, back in 1994, it was to help people give up the search for happiness and to start following their joy. Searching for happiness blocks happiness because searching implies that what you are looking for is somewhere else, and not here.
“What we are looking for is what is looking,” said St. Francis. In other words, we are the love that is looking for love. Etched on your heart is the holy truth “I AM LOVE.” When we forget this, we go searching for love, and we inevitably search in all the wrong places. The St. Francis Prayer helps us with our spiritual amnesia. It helps us to remember, “I am what I seek.” It’s a declaration of love. It says, today I will be the love that I am looking for.
4. Giving is Receiving
When we forget about our eternal loveliness, we make love into a thing (like a gold coin) that we hope to find somewhere and in someone. Love is now a bargain that we give and receive. In this haggling over love, the giver appears to be different to the receiver. Also, the giver appears to have something that the receiver does not. The fear of giving is that giving always ends up in sacrifice; and the fear of receiving is that we are not worthy to receive what is not ours.
One of my favorite lessons from A Course in Miracles is “To give and to receive are one in truth.” The Course teaches “giving is receiving.” In practical terms, when you show kindness to someone it’s your Vagus nerve that feels it. You feel the kindness you are giving. Similarly, when you attack another person, it’s your nervous system that has to deal with the acid of the attack. The giver and the receiver are one and the same, teaches A Course in Miracles and the St. Francis Prayer.
5. Gift of Forgiveness
“Pardon” is St. Francis’ word for forgiveness. Because giving is receiving, when you forgive someone it’s you that receives the benefits. Remember, the giver and the receiver are one. In forgiving, we set ourselves free. We free ourselves from the identity of the victim. We free ourselves from living only/mostly in the past. We free ourselves from the acid burn that comes with carrying resentments and grievances. We are practising forgiveness so that we can get on with our life and fulfil our purpose on earth. Forgiving our wounds is part of our purpose.
When we won’t forgive someone, it’s usually because we are still interested in revenge. Yesterday, I interviewed my friend Anita Moorjani, author of Dying to Be Me, on forgiveness. At one point we touched on revenge. Anita told me, “The trouble with revenge is that you become what you want to take revenge against.” What a great observation. Trying to extract revenge takes us away from love and our true nature. Here’s another great observation from A Course in Miracles:
“It is as sure that those who hold grievances
will suffer guilt, as it is certain that those
who forgive will find peace.”
6. Your Spiritual Birth
The last line of the St. Francis Prayer takes us back full-circle to divine surrender. The fundamental purpose of the spiritual path is to experience what ancient Greek philosophers called Metanoia: a holy shift from believing you are an ego in a body to realising you are a soul in the universe. To experience this shift, we have to be willing to “die to self,” which means we have to let go of our self-image (the self our ego has made) and accept our Unconditioned Self (the self that creation made).
How do we die to self? First, we get curious. We work with an inquiry like Who am I without my self-image? And, What does the divine see when the divine looks at me? We surrender our personal plans. We affirm, “Thy Will be done.” We give up our little plans, so that we can be part of the big holy plan. And we keep praying prayers like the St. Francis Prayer so that we identify fully with the One we are praying to. St. Francis said, “We should seek not so much to pray but to become prayer.”
My invitation to you is to pray the St. Francis Prayer for twenty-one days. This will be a pilgrimage of sorts. It will take just two minutes a day, and the benefits will last a lifetime.