Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Clare of Assisi and Kenotic Leadership

I had the privilege of spending some time in Italy this last month with a group of fellow seekers studying the leadership of Paul, Francis and Clare of Assisi (thus the picture here taken at the Hermitage of the Prisons on Mount Subasio in Assisi). I am the richer for knowing these precious Christians better. With a lot of laughter, prayer and reflection; we were all recaptured by a clearer vision of the possibilities of a leadership modelled after Jesus.

I was deeply moved once again by the spirituality of Clare of Assisi, whilst spending time in Assisi. Clare’s absolute commitment to simplicity, her refusal to accept the markings and privileges of the religious temporal powers of her time and her vocation of service, place her within the domain of kenotic (self-emptying) leader. But different to other Monastic Movements, Clare’s commitment to radical simplicity (poverty in her own words) is not primarily focused on moral development, but rather her desire for mystical union with the Divine that leads to union with others and radical solidarity with the poorest of the poor. Clare illustrates how mystical union with Jesus through the imitation of His poverty leads to service and a purer vision of authentic leadership, as she writes in her first letter to Agnes of Prague (1LAg 13), the daughter of the King of Bohemia:
“Be strengthened in the holy service which you have undertaken out of an ardent desire for the Poor Crucified.”

In her third letter to the same Agnes of Prague, Clare continues on to show how her primary vision is one of mystical union with Jesus through a process of mimesis, which in Clare’s praxis is an identification with the simplicity (poverty) of the Incarnated one (3 LAg 12-14):
“Place your mind in the mirror of eternity;
Place your soul in the splendor of glory;
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance;
And, through contemplation, transform your entire being
Into the image of the Divine One himself,
So that you, yourself, may also experience what his friends experience
When they taste the hidden sweetness
That God alone has kept from the beginning
For those who love him.”