We have a prayer we say every day in the Third Order which says...
‘Grant, we pray, that being knit together
in community and prayer
we your servants may glorify your holy name
after the example of St Francis, and win others to your love.’
Do you find that sometimes in a prayer, a phrase jumps out and hits you right between the eyes? It comes at you full tilt with flashing lights and honking horn saying, 'Over here! Listen!'
In this prayer, for me, it’s, 'and win others to your love’.
And I always think of a large neon-pink furry monkey.
Now I’m sure that St Francis, being Francis would have welcomed any florescent monkey as a brother. Stuffed pink monkeys don’t have a lot of words and he would have liked that. I don't suppose there were too many of them around in medieval Assisi so its hypothetical I guess, but in the spirit of Franciscanism we can safely assume they would have a warm welcome.
Just in case you think I’ve been smoking something exotic, let me tell you that we have a pink monkey sitting in our living room, atop the sofa. Here he is...
Now I began to worry during the long lockdowns about our mental state when we told him we were going out for a walk and said hello as we came back. He was part of the family. (They were long long lockdowns). We didn’t have any small grandchildren visiting for eighteen months and like grandparents all over the globe, we had to find inventive ways to keep in touch. My husband took to bringing Silly Monkey in on FaceTime calls with them and when you are three, it’s a great hoot to have SM try to nick your breakfast when you are on the other side of the world in New Zealand.
It did the trick though. Our first small guest was my little grand-daughter schlepping all the way from The Netherlands with her squirrel backpack and an expectation of things happening. But, when it came to the crunch and the car drew up outside the house, it was all a tad alarming for her. She had spent almost half her life in her own house, so it was a big deal to get on a plane and come and stay somewhere else, even if she knew these people well. Best to take it slowly. So, when she climbed out of the car and headed purposefully towards the house, we let her be. Let her explore and find her toddler-sized feet.
And the first friendly face she spied was Silly Monkey, waiting to be noticed on the sofa. I was wondering, to be honest, how the real deal would go down. He frightened the babies when we first brought him home from the local garden centre in a fit of rookie grandparently enthusiasm, which wasn’t the idea at all. But this little girl was older and wiser on this visit and quickly extended a pudgy hand of friendship to him which he graciously accepted. Soon he was hanging around her neck and they were best mates.
It feels, shall we say, sacrilegious to equate a bright pink stuffed toy monkey to the sharing of the Gospel. Bear with. I’m trying to find my flow here and I know what I mean but sometimes it’s hard to say it.
It’s about being won to love. I’ve heard a million sermons in my time and, trust me, I’m not knocking the sermon givers. I’ve never preached a sermon in my life. As a careers adviser, I delivered many presentations to bored parents and kids on, ‘What to do at the end of school’ and that was bad enough. At least it was only the end of school that was in question rather than their eternal destiny.
I don’t recall though that many sermons about being won to love. It always felt – oh I don’t know – much harder than that. It felt as if I had to win the love of God rather than the other way round. As if I had to convince him that I was worthy enough to be loved which felt a tough call seeing as how he was the Creator of the Universe and I was a sad little sack of a sinner who always messed up on the being-a-good-Christian front.
But God doesn’t force, or coerce or cajole or condemn or bully or whinge or whine or judge or nag. She simply loves, and is only waiting for me to turn to her and want to play.
Just like Silly Monkey.
And God could be neon pink couldn’t she? For all we know.
I think St Francis would like that.