The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes
– Marcel Proust
It’s not often that I read a book and want to immediately read it again. It is even rarer that I want to work through the study guide in the back of the book. Chasing Francis had both effects on me, it’s a truly wonderful book. The author Ian Morgan Cron described his work as being wisdom literature, which he describes as a “delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching”. It is a very fast read, until like my friend who recommended it to me, you feel led to stop and journal all the wonderful insights that are being generated. I did not do that, I had a hard time putting it down to journal, hence why I am going through it again. I read half of it in a weekend and the second half over the course of the next week, finishing it at 12:30am on evening.
The plot of the story revolves around Chase Falson, a burned out evangelical pastor of a mega church in the North Eastern USA. His faith is on rocky ground and the elders force him to take a break. Despondent, Chase contacts an Uncle who is a Franciscan Friar, who is a well known Spiritual Director. His Uncle invites him to come spend time with him in Italy. Chase takes him up on his invitation and thus begins his pilgrimage experience.
Along the way he learns about Francis’s theology and rule of life. His embracing of poverty, but his almost paradoxical love of the arts for their ability to demonstrate God’s beauty. He travels from the richest parts of Italy, from beautifully ornate churches to the slums where abandoned aids patients go to die in the loving arms of Franciscan sisters.
Along the way Chase meets a colourful cast of characters from monks to nuns to drug addicts and musicians. You might think the endgame of the novel is to have Chase become Catholic, but such is not the case. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s actually the part of the novel that is both the most dissatisfying, but I suspect, the most realistic.
The cover of my edition includes a quote from Mark Batterson that reads “Reading this book may cause a total overhaul of the way you think about what it means to be a followers of Christ” and I agree. Anabaptists will really enjoy this book as they will see many aspects of their movement in this book. For those who want more, the book is peppered with suggestions for further reading.
As you follow Chase on his pilgrimage, you will be led on your own to reconsider some fundamental aspects of your faith. It is a beautiful book and there is much wisdom to mine from its pages.
As I work through the study guide, which has some compelling and difficult questions, I will post my reflection here on the blog and take you with me on my pilgrimage. I consider this part of the healing process I announced here.