A word from Mark:
St. Francis of Assisi led me to the Franciscan Spiritual Center. It’s been a long, strange journey that started more than 40 years ago and 2,000 miles from Portland, Oregon.
It was Jesus who led me to Francis. At the lowest, darkest point in my life I “heard” Jesus say to me, “You are the light of the world.” My heart and mind were blown wide open! Not long after that I entered seminary in the San Francisco Bay area. That’s where I first met Franciscans. Even though I was born and raised a Catholic, I could not have told you what a Franciscan was.
Soon I befriended a Franciscan student named “Ponchie.” He introduced me to Francis and Clare and to other Franciscans in the seminary and in region. A sense of kinship with them enlivened me. They were at once wild, and gentle, and brilliant! I wanted what they had.
Meanwhile, back at the seminary, on a Saturday in January 1984 I was studying for a philosophy exam. The material was heavy and I grew weary. I reclined for a nap and immediately a dream-like state fell upon me, but I wasn’t asleep. I seemed to be in the back of a Jeep on one of the trails that was in the park behind the seminary. The Jeep came to a turn on an uphill portion of a dirt pathway. And, at that turn, was a short, grizzled man in a coarse tunic. It was St. Francis! He had his hand up signaling for the Jeep to stop. He looked at me with loving, searing eyes and simply said, “That’s too easy.” I leapt out of the Jeep and followed Francis. That’s when I knew. I knew what I was being called to do. I had to follow Francis! I had no idea where these wild, gentle, and brilliant people would lead me but I signed up.
I was sent to a Franciscan community in Portland. Occasionally we’d go to a retreat house run by the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia. We’d go there for days of reflection. As I was wandering the halls one day, I saw a painting of Francis that looked so much like the grizzled man of my “dream!” He was with me! Guiding me.
Fast forward to 2017. In that time frame I had come to realize the message I received from Jesus, “You are the light of the world,” was the message I was to give to everyone I encountered. But how was I to deliver that message? And from what platform? An old friend and guide led me to another old friend and guide who made it clear I should talk to Sister Mary Jo.
I’ll never forget the first time I stepped into the Franciscan Center. I felt such an incredible resonance. My eyes welled up with tears. Sister Mary Jo and I recognized each other immediately! We’d worked together decades before at a Catholic high school. During that conversation, I learned there was a job opening for a Spiritual Director at the Center. I had left my job as a case manager and therapist at a community mental health center to start a private practice in spiritual direction. I supplemented what little money I earned there with food stamps and a job pumping gas. I didn’t get the job then, but I had a good feeling about the Center. It wasn’t long before two more positions opened up and I got one of them. When I showed up to my new office, the first thing I saw was the painting of Francis from the retreat house and my dream. The short, grizzled man with the coarse tunic still guides and inspires me.
In wonderment and gratitude, we experience moments to uplift our spirits when they are sagging. These moments also help us go deeper when we get stuck in the shallows. Mainly, I believe, we receive inspirations to share them. Sometimes the sharing is through words but more often, in my experience, the sharing is done by being a loving presence for others and for creation.
I don’t know what I’d be doing if Francis didn’t take me under his wing and lead me to the Franciscan Center. But I do know that for forty years I’ve lived in the thin space between the “haves” and “have-nots.” I experience a kind of vitality there. It’s like being on a beautiful mountain trail that could fall away at any moment. But, so far, the path, though constantly changing, remains reliable. The Franciscan Spiritual Center provides for me, and all who join us in their own way, the peace, presence, and community to stay on the trail. Please help us to continue to be good stewards of our peaceful and playful agape community where we can lovingly share what we’ve received from the One Who Is and Is LOVE!
Click here to read more stories in the Season of Franciscan Giving series.