Chasing Francis, the Sleeping Giant

Mike Morrell: Chasing Francis is a book that just keeps on going. It’s been three years since it’s publication and I still hear about people discovering it for the first time. The terms “slow burn hit” and “long tail” come to mind. What do you think about that?

Ian Cron: You ever listen to old Neil Young records? Musically, they still hold up, you know? You listen to something like Saturday Night Fever …not so much! I think the book is holding up over time. I think the things Chase learns and talks about still really matter. Again, there are lots of ideas in it that are not original to me. I just organized them into a story and made a book out of them. I think there is truths in it that continue vibrating in our current context, and maybe more loudly when they did when the book first came out. There is an increasing upsurge of people saying, “You know, there’s just got to be something else”.

MM: Indulge me a moment. Here are some endorsements that have only come out in the last 3-6 months.

“I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams

“Chasing Francis is absolutely seductive. This one is a feast for the soul as well as a great, churning, joyful romp for the spirit!”

Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why

“Cron provides us with a deeply moving account of loss and discovery. It bears witness to the ability of Francis of Assisi, to speak with a full voice to contemporary seekers and persons of faith.”

Frank T. Griswold, Twenty-Fifth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

“A powerful and wonderful book! I was deeply moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a much broader vista of God’s passion for the world.”

Dr. Marcus J. Borg, author of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

These are some heady endorsements, especially coming three years after the book was released!

IC: Heh – yeah, where were these people three years ago? Seriously, its pretty humbling to get these responses from people I admire so much. I’m praying they help the book get some wind under its wings. It would be great if it would just take off!

MM: Earlier in our conversation we spoke about contemplative spirituality – it amazes me the variety of responses it evokes. It’s all the rage in some circles while many others have never heard of it, even now in 2010. Centering prayer, spiritual direction, lectio divina, and labyrinths…these have ardent supporters in many mainline and emergent and progressive Catholic circles, but then sadly, I think contemplative spirituality is dismissed in other places. It’s seen as “liberal” and “un-biblical.” Could you share your perspective on the importance of contemplative spirituality for the church as well as maybe touching on its biblical and historical roots?

IC: Well, its historical roots go back 1,700 years to the desert mothers and fathers. Then later the language of the contemplative was lost in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, for all of the obvious reasons. Since the Reformation I think that we over-privileged rationalization and under-privileged the transformative power at coming to understand Jesus and truths about the spiritual life through other, more experiential, mediums. At Augustine once said, the human heart particularly delights in truth that comes to it sideways, or in indirect ways. I think that’s what the contemplative life is in many ways about.

The contemplative life is just about waking up to what is. It’s about learning to pay attention. The world is suffused with the presence of God. As Ignatius of Loyola would say, “The whole point of the spiritual life is to see God in all things.” So now God is not just an idea, God is a living, humming reality in every moment. So to learn how to pay attention is learning to live mindfully in the moment, to experience God in everything; that’s the point. Now, the way you get there is through a rigorous life of meditation, prayer, and spiritual exercises -some that that go beyond or bypass the rational mind.

But this material does infuriate some people. I wrote an article for the Catalyst conference on the contemplative life – Everyday Mystics – and I talked about the fact that every Christian, at some level, whether they know it or not, is a mystic. People wrote in and killed me for it. “It’s not in the Bible,” they cried. Well what about Martha and Mary? Martha was modeling the Active Life and Mary the Contemplative life. Both are important but Jesus said Mary chose the better way.

MM: It’s interesting to observe, because I feel like if even self-proclaimed progressive and emergent Christians truly embrace the contemplative vision as you just described it, we could really give some of the more entrenched dead-tradition folks a run for their money in terms of taking seriously the idea that God is really real, present, changing, and alive.

IC: Yeah. Now that’s not to say that the spiritual life doesn’t have to be built on strong intellectual foundation. It does. But the intellectual life can only bring you to the edge of the wilderness of God; it can’t take you in. I think the mystics and contemplatives agree on this. Entering into the wilderness of God happens in a mystical, contemplative encounter with God. This is a gift of the Spirit and is something neither you nor I can manufacture. Look what happens to Aquinas. He gets to the end of his life. He’s written the Summa. Then he has this powerful, mystical experience and what does he do with all his academic material? He calls it “straw” and abandons it. All his life the academic had taken him to the edge of the Wild but it paled in comparison when he finally went through this mystical encounter.

MM: Oh that’s fascinating!

IC: When that contemplative or mystical moment happens, it is a gift. Some people do contemplative prayer for 30 or 40 years and wait for the 3 seconds of communion and they are never the same again. To give you another phrase, “the contemplative life is about a unitive knowledge of God”. It’s about union with God.

This concludes part five.

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?

The Chasing Francis interview is to be continued..! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.

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