Radical unprotectedness.

(photographed in the backyard, after a much-needed storm)

Earlier this week, as I was fishing for information on St. Francis of Assisi, I came across a phrase attributed to Simon Tugwell, who describes Franciscan spirituality as “a way of radical unprotectedness.”

The meaning of “unprotectedness” seemed obvious to me so I looked it up, just to be sure. Webster’s defines it as “a property of being helpless in the face of attack.”  Not very satisfying.  Not very Franciscan sounding, if you ask me.  It misses the point.

For me, this phrase speaks not so much to helplessness as it does to vulnerability – a willingness to expose oneself, to risk being open to others and most of all to God.  “Radical unprotectedness,” I think, is the willingness to abandon myself to God, to trust his love for me enough to let go of the ‘idols’ I might be relying on to give me a sense of safety (i.e. a high level of productivity, financial resources, the love and approval of others).  Radical unprotectedness is not something we achieve but rather something we strive for, as we move through the process, again and again, of recognizing what we are holding back and then releasing it to the One who is perfect Love.  It is a willingness to sit in the discomfort or awkwardness of that season of letting go, that space of surrender.

Many years ago, I had a dream in which a strange man (God) was using a cutting tool, to cut away a large section of my face.  I patiently endured this process, only asking a moment here and there to rest before giving in once again to this cutting away.  This was not a process of eliminating me, but rather a process of removing the masks I had taken on so that my true self could be revealed.  My prayer is for the willingness to let go of resistance, to allow this process to continue to take place.  To allow myself to become that unique part of God’s creation – the “me” that God intends.

As I reflect of late on the process of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am grateful for simple instructions that invite us into a journey that is profound, a journey into a life that is not lived for ourselves only.  This journey is captured beautifully in the following poem, which was first shared with me by my dear friend and “sister from another mother” — the beautiful Rev. Rainey Dankel.

Mother Wisdom Speaks

Some of you I will hollow out.

I will make you a cave.

I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.

You will be a bowl.

You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain…


I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.

I will do this for the space that you will be.

I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.

People will find their way through you.

A bowl.

People will eat from you

and their hunger will not weaken them to death.

A cup to catch the sacred rain….


Light will flow in your hollowing.

You will be filled with light.

Your bones will shine.

The round open center of you will be radiant.

I will call you Brilliant One.

I will call you Daughter Who is Wide.

I will call you transformed.

— by Christine Lore Webber, published in Woman Prayers, edited by Mary Ford-Grabowsky.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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2 Responses to Radical unprotectedness.

  1. Thank you for sharing your heart and for the poem. Reading the words are like drinking fresh water for the soul. My favourite part, “I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.” Beautiful.

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