Franciscan Mission Service presents:
“Poor and Free: A Spiritual Yes to Less” every Friday in Lent
Our series contributors focus on the joyful freedom of spiritual poverty. The Good News is that detachment of ownership leads us to greater reliance on God which makes us more available to love and serve the poor.
Gigi Gruenke realized in the second grade that God would call her to mission abroad. After college, she spent three years as a lay missioner in Peru. Later, she became a lay missioner in El Salvador from 2000 until mid-2007. She now works in DC and Maryland as a clinical social worker. One of her ongoing joys is being a mother and grandmother.
FMS: How do you live in poverty, spiritually or otherwise, in a way that brings joy and freedom into your life?
GG: I experience joy and freedom as blessings, fruits nurtured by being present to God’s presence. God nurtures me to care deeply. In caring, my heart is lightened, I take myself less seriously and I laugh (cry, too) at the idea of American exceptionalism, and all the exclusion and exclusiveness that implies.
FMS: Social justice advocate Shane Clairborne is known for saying, “When we truly discover how to love our neighbor as ourself, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary.” How do you respond to people who say, “That’s a beautiful idea, but it isn’t realistic”?
GG: Loving our neighbors as ourselves does away with hierarchies, be they social, economic, ethnic or spiritual. God’s dream for all of creation is fulfillment. Our struggle, against all odds, is to invest in God’s dream. This investment includes participation in the shaping of public values, policies and institutions that can further the fulfillment of all. God’s dream continues over the millennia and each of us is called to act vigorously during this moment of our earthly habitation.
FMS: What is a story of a time in your life when you were challenged by an individual encounter the same way St. Francis was when he encountered the man with leprosy?
GG: I have a friend who is physically limited, almost totally, by a progressive illness. Everything about him physically was a disturbing distraction, initially. Then, through encounter and friendship, he became for me a person not at all defined by his physical imitations.
FMS: How is a generous response to such an encounter a prime example of spiritual poverty?
GG: The response is about refusing to be distracted, waylaid by an obstacle to true encounter. We can’t do this if allow ourselves to be caught up in ourselves.
FMS: Franciscan missioners serve a ministry of presence. How is that call a response to spread the joyful gospel of poverty?
GG: When a person goes to mission she/he sheds the securities and comforts of home. The missioner takes on the foolishness of one who can’t communicate as well as some three year-olds; the humility of one who is to be evangelized by the people he/she has come to serve; the ignorance of one who doesn’t know how to manage in stark circumstances. But the missioner, in this personal poverty, shows love, and that is what really counts.
FMS: How are all people similarly called to that mission?
GG: We are all called to be present to others and to all creation in a personally uncluttered, genuine way that embraces the other.
FMS: What is your spiritual guidance to someone looking to live a life of joyful poverty, free from attachments to money and possessions?
GG: As winter ends, look at the hundreds of thin, woody twigs growing out from the larger branches of a tall tree. They gracefully sway in a wind they did not cause. Bare, frail, they cling and are clung to by stronger branches. You are one of those budding twigs. Celebrate your frail beauty and allow the breath of God to carry you.