Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lord, Who Am I?

The breeze rushed over head, as she frolicked through the leaves. My lungs expanded, as she filled me with life. The sun's warmth touched my cheek, as he danced in and out of the trees. The passing stream spoke, as it tumbled over the rocks. I felt her midst dampen and cool my skin. The ground beneath me was firm and solid and yet tickled my toes with her blades of grass. Next to me stood the tree, strong and outstretched, as life danced about him. I fell to my knees. "Lord, Who am I?" I said.

Moments before I had stepped out into the midday sun with my guitar strapped to my back. I had started to softly strum and sing to the tree a traditional Navajo prayer.  I then felt an interior voice say, "Stop! Listen to how we praise God." In that moment all of creation was praising God through simply being what God had created it to be. It needed no words, no song, or dance, it simply was.

Creation was calling forth my authentic self, "Who are you, my son?" Franciscan theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus from the 13th century believed each created thing, in its own special way, was the total image of its creator. It expressed not some aspect of God, but his beauty as a whole.  By simply being a tree, the tree offered praise to God.  I was being called to simply be, Scott.

Unfortunately, I like other men, learned from an early age to hide our true selves for fear of not fitting in or being different.  Soon I lost sight of who I was and thus the image I was created in; the image and likeness of God.  As I began to discern my vocation to religious life, those old feelings surfaced, again.  

I became nervous to share my journey with my friends, my co-workers, and even my parents for fear of what others might think.  According to the National Religious Vocation Conference study on new members to religious life, I was not alone in feeling this way.  One study participant shared his initial fear:
"...And of course the support of family, friends, which was surprising.  I think I put more pressure on myself when I was trying to break the news to my parents, to friends.  I almost felt like people would think, "Why are you doing that?  That's weird."  But surprisingly more people are a lot more supportive than I thought."
Our founder St. Francis of Assisi shared these feeling, too.  Thomas of Celano recalls one particular moment in the life of St. Francis:
Once on a pilgrimage to Rome, out of love for poverty he took off his fine clothing and dressed himself in a poor man's clothes.  He happily settled among the poor in the square in front of the church of St. Peter, a place where the poor are abundant.  Considering himself one of them, he eagerly ate with them.  Many times he would have done a similar thing had he not been held back by shame before those who knew him.
The key phrase is "he would have done a similar thing had he not been held back by shame..."  Overcoming shame is something Francis had to deal with as he began to discern and live out his new way of life.  We can be afraid to appear different; afraid to appear holy or committed to the gospel.  If that controls our responses, we can miss the many opportunities to respond to the gospel.

Francis overcame moments of shame by leaving his familial surroundings, where people knew him and where he was too embarrassed to act on the stirrings in his heart.  He found new friends (beggars, lepers, the poor) to experience and respond to following Christ.  He consciously put himself in circumstances where he was forced to feel different about himself.  In time he returned to his old friends and community; stronger and more committed to Jesus.

The friars understand these feelings, too.  We've all experienced them to some degree.  Which is why we provide discerners an opportunity to leave their familial surroundings and experience life within a friary (house where friars live); to experience our prayer life, and our ministries with the poor and homeless.  We provide a space to gather with new friends, your fellow discerners, so as to act on and test the stirrings of your heart to follow Jesus.

Our vocation director and friars are here to support you.  We can arrange opportunities to experience a "Come and See" retreat, join a monthly discernment group, or immerse yourself in one of our outreach ministries to the poor and homeless.  In other words, we invite you to try on the life, test the stirring of your heart, respond to the movements of the Holy Spirit to follow Christ in a more radical way.  Be not afraid.  Come and see.  Others including, St. Francis of Assisi have come this way, too.

May God bless you and keep you on this journey of faith called life!

Peace & all Good,
Bro. Scott Slattum, OFM

The Province of Saint Barbara's postulants spend the weekend camping in Tillamook, Oregon.  Experiencing the beauty of creation and entering into a space of contemplation and prayer can help you discern the will of God.
Personal Reflection:

According to the National Religious Vocation Conference new members to religious life found that meeting with members of the religious order and visits to communities were the most helpful activities when discerning a call to religious life.  Do you have plans to attend a "Come and See" retreat or a monthly discernment group?  If not, what's holding you back?  Feel free to share your answer in the comment section below.

Contact Information:

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422

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