My wife and I recently re-watched the 2007 film Into the Wild, and this prompted me to re-devour the book upon which it is based. Author Jon Krakauer drew upon his own lived experience of wanderlust and mountain climbing in the Alaskan country to write the bestselling biopic on the life of Christopher McCandless, a young man who left behind his belongings to live off the land of Alaska until his tragic death in 1992. McCandless’ life has inspired some to dismiss him as a self-absorbed, witless fool and others to praise him as a modern Thoreau, heroically eschewing suburban society in the pursuit of the essence of life itself.
Re-engaging with the story of McCandless, I couldn’t help noticing that the fervor that relentlessly pushed McCandless forward was not dissimilar, in some ways, to what drove the equally polarizing figure of St. Francis of Assisi. McCandless was essentially a St. Francis (or any other saint) who had never encountered Christ. In a similar way, Francis was a McCandless who knew the pitfalls of society yet also knew intimately the heart of Christ and thus spent every ounce of his being giving worship to God and honoring his creation.
Like McCandless, Francis came from a family of wealth and would one day turn from that path to live for something beyond what mere financial gain could offer. Both men were driven by an uncompromising moral ethic and expected great things from those they encountered. They held themselves to a standard that shocked those around them, and they were considered a bit “mad” by their peers as they lived in utter austerity and cared nothing for the opinions of others.