I love when I approach a book with preconceived notions about the subject matter and end up walking away pleasantly surprised. Alison got me this book for Christmas and, based on its title, I figured it was a biographical account of the life of St. Francis. I’m familiar with some of the folklore surrounding his life, but have never actually read a book about his life story.
So I dove in.
What I found was much better. Instead of a historical recounting based on the available information we have about Francis, Jon Sweeney does something very clever. He acknowledges the “theological gloss” that has been assigned to Francis and the stories of his life and instead focuses on the big picture.
Sweeney sets up the narrative by starting with a small fact or scene from Francis’ life, and then unpacks the meaning from the event. Going further, he then shares how it relates to Francis’ worldview, in conjunction with the cultural and geopolitical events of his day. He then brings it full circle by applying it to the modern era.
I found this approach refreshing. Sweeney didn’t claim to have new information, nor did he make a judgement as to the credibility of the stories that we all know. Instead, he presents an accessible recounting of how Francis saw the world and responded to it.
If you know a lot about the life of St. Francis, you’ll need to check your knowledge at the door. If, like me, you have a low level knowledge, this manuscript does an excellent job of laying out not the facts of Francis’ life, but the essence of his spirituality and worldview. In this way, I come away from the book understanding the man Francis, not just the historical Francis.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★