St. Francis and the Posture of Begging

February 18, 2019 by Erica Smith

As I was reading The Rule of St. Francis, I was struck by Francis’s rule of poverty: “The brothers shall possess nothing, neither a house, nor a place, nor anything. But, as pilgrims and strangers in this world, serving God in poverty and humility, they shall confidently seek alms…” Interestingly, St. Francis does not tell the brothers to give to the poor. Instead he tells them to become the poor and, moreover, to confidently become beggars.

This act of becoming poor seems quite countercultural to our modern context of consumerism. However, St. Francis says we should become poor because “the Lord made Himself poor in this world for us.” To St. Francis, giving up any entitlement or attachment we have to the materials of this world is part of the journey toward Christlikeness. This discipline of detaching ourselves from material goods reminds us that God is the sole provider of all that we need (Matthew 6:28-30).

St. Francis’s assertion that the brothers should purposely become beggars also seemed countercultural to me. Usually we think of beggars as people who are forced to beg because they cannot make ends meet on their own. Not surprisingly, this sentiment perfectly resonates with our own spiritual journey, because there’s nothing we can do on our own to make our spiritual ends meet either.

While reflecting on this rule, I started picturing myself as a beggar. I noticed my posture: reaching out my hands in hopes of receiving something for sustenance. I was then reminded that we use this same posture when we receive Communion. In my church tradition, we go to the front and kneel at the altar with our hands cupped in front of us, waiting to receive the bread and wine, which represent Christ’s body and blood. This kneeling act at Communion represents a posture of repentance and humble acknowledgment that there is nothing worthwhile we bring or anything we can do to earn God’s grace. Nevertheless, we reach out our hands, waiting expectantly to be sustained by Christ’s body and blood that was freely given to us through Christ’s death on the cross.

To what posture is God calling you today?

I invite you to take part in a body prayer inspired by St. Francis’s Rule #6:

Body Prayer Inspired by Rule of St. Francis #6

Standing with arms extended in front of body, fists clenched and turned upward) Lord, we come with our hands full of our materials, our desires, our pride, and our sin.

(Open palms) We release everything we hold into your care.

(Kneeling) We know that we have nothing to offer you, 

(Bring cupped hands in front) so we kneel here as beggars, knowing that only you can sustain us and bring us life. Just as we kneel this way in Communion, waiting to receive your body and blood, may we live our lives expectantly, waiting for you to provide all that we need. 

(Standing with hands to heart) Thank you for your love and provision. Amen.

Want to learn more about St. Francis? Click here to view The Upper Room Spiritual Classic Writings of Francis & Clare. 

Erica Smith is a member of The Upper Room marketing team and a student at Duke Divinity School. 

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