Yesterday I gave some information to our Pilgrimage group about Saint Clare of Assisi. We often think of her as a meek, mild woman who went into a cloister and spent her life in prayer. And she did go into a cloister. She did spend her life in prayer. Beyond that, she also was an activist who spent most of her life communicating with the outside world to further the mission of Saint Francis and to effect change.
As a writer, I am deeply tied to this woman from long ago. We went into the bowels of the church that bears her name to view her un-compromised body. When her body had been unearthed in the 1800s the original Rule of her Poor Ladies, was gripped in her hand. The pope had granted acceptance of her Rule just days before her death. She is one of few women in the church today who has written a rule for her community that wasn't heavily influenced by a papacy's need to control the narrative
Clare was thirteen years younger than Francis. In today's paradigm, we might say that they both went to the same church with their families when they were young. And that would be true as well. They were baptized at the same church.
What has captured me about Clare's story is this, in the thirteenth century, she was accepted by Francis as an equal. Clare left home in the dead of night, on Palm Sunday, leaving behind a family of nobility, having sold her dowry and gave the money to the poor. She followed through alley ways and into a field that led to the place where Francis lived outside the city walls.
There, Francis accepted her as a brother, like the other friars.
Recent research on Clare has unearthed many things about her that call to mind other strong women of our day. Clare received a tonsure by Francis, which means that her hair was cut in the same way as the brothers, looking (for modern day purposes) like your image of Friar Tuck. She struggled with the call to follow Francis and still follow the rule of the Church. She nurtured those who followed her. She ministered to lepers. And she wrote to other strong women across Europe to encourage them to lead a similar life.
Eight hundred years ago, Clare saw a vision of what could be and she ran toward it.
As a woman who struggles between faith and religion I find Clare to be a guide down the narrow streets of my own spirituality.