In November 2016, I experienced a profound call to return to Christianity, even to the style of Christianity I was born into. Since then that call has led in a specific direction – toward these folks:
I’m grateful to have been accepted as a Postulant in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. Postulancy means a period of discernment when I work with a mentor/companion to explore a Franciscan sort of spirituality and way of life. If it sticks, I become a novice in the Order this summer, then potentially make lifelong vows a couple of years from now.
This might sound like a random shift when those who know me have only just got used to me as a Christian (again) – or as a novelist – or, for that matter, as a singer, or an event planner, or any of the several things you’ve seen me being or doing. But, as lovely Mychal Judge (a Franciscan) wrote in his diary, “God of all creation, you have made me for all sorts of reasons.” And I want to let you in on this, because time is short – and because it’s stunningly awesome.
What do I mean, time is short? While I was drafting this post, I stumbled across the very concept pithily stated by the U.S. Order of Friars Minor. (Disclaimer: They’re Roman Catholic and I’m not, but I broadly stand with them on the urgency and priorities described here.)
In brief: it’s time, both in my life and in the life of the planet, to get down to sustainable tacks, to speak for the trees, to attach some words and deeds to what I’m doing here on earth and why, to find the best ways to serve what survives through this tragic era we’re in. And in the spirit of Francis and Clare is a darn good way to live, theologically, psychologically, ontologically, even biologically and eschatologically.
Here are a few questions that may come to mind.
Q: Who are the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans?
“The Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the people of God, clergy and laity, who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi.
“Christ calls us to follow this way so that he may send us, like Francis, to offer all that we have and all that we are….
“The Order of Ecumenical Franciscans consists of men or women [or non-binary people], married or single, ordained or laity from any Christian denomination; who, though following the ordinary professions of life, feel called to a lifelong dedication under a definite discipline and vows. This is in accord with St. Francis’ intention when he encouraged the formation of a Third Order, recognizing, as he did, that unlike Friars Minor and the Sisters who followed St. Clare, many of God’s children are called to serve God not in a literal acceptance of the evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, but in an observance of their spirit in the ordinary professions of life.”
I had the joy of meeting a lot of the OEF members last June at their annual convocation in St. Louis. It was an amazing experience. They are a diversity-embracing, smart, loving, gentle, emotionally mature bunch of humans, and working on growing ever more so. I’m honored that they let me hang out with them.
Q: OK, what’s a Third Order?
A: St. Francis of Assisi founded a three-pronged family during his lifetime: the First Order, the Order of Friars Minor (men); with St. Clare, the Second Order, or Poor Clares (women) and the Third Order of Penitents (everybody). As stated by Franciscan Media publishers, the Third Order “dates to the lifetime of St. Francis (1182-1226). Both married people and single people sought to share in his spirituality – and that of St. Clare – while fulfilling existing family or professional obligations. Today’s [Third Order] Franciscans share some similarities to “oblates” of monastic communities or “associates” of more recent religious congregations.”
Q: What does this mean in your daily life?
A: It means I try out living under a Rule of Life in communication with other Franciscans. The Rule of Life puts on paper a lot of the things I do anyway, at least for the last couple of years: eating vegan; spending time in prayer and worship; dedicating some of my income to righteous causes; working on becoming more patient and compassionate (and failing, and trying again); finding new, good ways to serve others. You can read the OEF’s whole General Rule here if you want – or listen to it set to music!
Q: Whose idea was this?
A: I hope it’s God’s. That’s what I’m figuring out in the postulancy process. I’ve been a St. Francis fan for a long time, though that’s a big bandwagon to jump on – he’s one of the world’s most beloved saints! The notion of living under a Rule and of finding a community that does so has come up occasionally in my life off and on for many years, and now I’m getting with the program. In practical terms, I found out about the OEF because I came across this blog while looking for something else.
Q: What is a Franciscan sort of spirituality, anyway?
A: That’s a big question and a big tent. Here’s some good stuff on it from the Center for Action and Contemplation.
Q: So this is like you’re becoming a nun?
A: No. But there are some similarities, and (many) sisters rock, by the way (here’s one).
Q: So this is like you’re becoming a hippie?
A: You mean I wasn’t a hippie before?
Q: Do you think I’m going to hell now if I don’t believe what you do?
A: Emphatically not. As (the Franciscan) Richard Rohr says, “Authentic spirituality it always about changing you. It’s not about trying to change anyone else.” Francis himself – product of a super-intolerant age – was not merely tolerant of other faiths – he went and made friends with Muslims at a time when Christians were supposed to kill them on sight. One of his own writings reflects the influence of Islamic poetry.
Q: That’s amazing! I had no idea!
A: I know, right?!
Q: Wait, are you still an Episcopalian?
A: Very. So are lots of other Franciscan-spirited people, including quite a few in the OEF.
Q: Does your spouse know about this?
A: He was the first one I told before I sent in my application to the OEF. It’s not his personal jam, but he’s incredibly supportive of me, and I’m awash with gratitude.
Q: Do you still like all the stuff you did before?
A: You bet. My priorities – like what I choose to read or spend time or money on – are in process. But do please continue to talk to me about the Sixties, libraries, Gilbert & Sullivan, or whatever you got.
Q: Do I need to treat you differently, or, like, censor myself in front of you, or something?
A: I really hope you don’t feel the need to do so.
Q: This is neat. What should I do next?
A: A few ideas:
If you do the prayer thing (in any tradition), pray for me and my discernment. And/or ask me to pray for you – @HollidayBooks gets to me.
You could take a look at this super-cheesy yet actually quite inspiring and relevant film.
You could read a book like G.K. Chesterton’s Saint Francis of Assisi, Murray Bodo’s The Way of St. Francis…or, on a different front, one of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s compassion-based books about veganism.
You could subscribe to the not-specifically-Franciscan-but-generally-fantastic newsletter I co-edit, The Resistance Prays.
Thanks for reading.
May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy
And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.
(A Franciscan blessing, borrowed from here.)