2017 I spent a lot of time during 2017 trying to look at Franciscan Passages from every angle, wondering what the future would hold. I read lots of books, articles, blogposts, listened to more books and podcasts and had great, directed conversations with many wise people as I thought about the way I bring the writings of St. Francis of Assisi to life in the world. It is a journey that perhaps I should have documented but it was not an easy one. Since 2010, I’ve been creating in-person retreats, talks and classes for big and small audiences.
During this time of reflection, I had to wrestle with questions of ego, for example. As I looked around, I wondered if I would ever “catch a big break” after years of working solo. I had to wrestle with questions of demand. I offer(ed) such a niche thing that I’ve always known few people actually wanted to go deep with the writings of St. Francis. It was hard to find them but since 2010, find them I did in retreat centers (in NC and FL), in school gyms (Jicarilla Apache reservation), at an orphanage (in Central America) and rarely, at whatever parish we attended in whatever town we happened to be living in at the time.I would love to find a way for another person to do the legwork of lining up speaking engagements for me so I can simply do the speaking engagements. I have no idea how to go about doing this. I halfheartedly sent out a few unanswered emails to middlemen that broker deals between events and speakers. What I found in searching around is that, in the world of Catholic professional speakers, the vast majority of women speak on topics of marriage, sexuality and family life. The few people out there who are speaking far and wide about Francis in any way are male, vowed Franciscans.
I had to struggle with rejection in a big way when, already struggling with the question of whether I should continue to offer in-person talks, workshops, seminars and classes, I was told by a Secular Franciscan community at the last minute that they did not want me as part of their annual St. Francis feast day celebration. The reason, they explained, was that the members would be too busy putting up decorations that day to take time to hear about St. Francis’ writings. I was crestfallen. This rejection took more of a toll on me than it should have considering what it was.
Shortly after that, I had an absolutely out-of-the-ballpark opportunity to speak to undergraduates at an optional weeknight event for 90 minutes at a Franciscan university in the midwest. The setup was just right for a crowd of undergrads to spend the evening online and zoning out but, lo and behold, I found my groove and we sailed through 90 minutes and an overview of everything Francis wrote. It started off on the right foot when I had some students come up to do some short readings and somehow it came out that one of them could do handstands. What did I do? Well, naturally, I asked the crowd to join me in cheering him on to do a handstand for us! He won us all over and Francis, as always, won us over again with his poetry, letters and prayers. That was my last big speaking event of 2017. A nice way to erase rejection of a few weeks before from my head. I love speaking to large groups about the writings of Francis and Clare. I am humble and self-aware enough to be able to say here in writing that I am very, very good at this. I know my subject and I know how to appeal to a crowd so that quickly, we have built a rapport and are on a journey together, mulling over the words and images used by Francis. This love for the writings was given to me by some of the greatest Franciscan scholars alive today. That is not an exaggeration. I have been taught, at the Franciscan Institute where I studied for the M.A. in Franciscan Studies, by the best in the world and I am able to convey that same passion for these texts to all who will listen to me. 2017 is over and the 200 page notebook I began last January is filled. I’d hoped that by the end of the notebook/year, I would be well on my path to whatever was next for me.
2018 is here. I don’t know what invitations will come for me to speak as a professional speaker on the topic of the writings of Francis. As always, I will likely say yes to any invitation. It is the advertising, promotions, nudging, reminding part that I’m taking a break from for now.
In the meantime, I continue to work on movies. 2 years ago, I googled “how to make a documentary” minutes after receiving the exciting news that I was awarded a $1000 grant to make a movie about nuns. Skip ahead to today and I’ve completed 4 such movies and they’ve been featured in six film festivals around the world. I still have lots to learn. I mean lots.
I received a grant to pull together experts on filmmaking with people like me who want to improve our filmmaking skills. I’ve been recruiting my classmates and the purpose of the grant is for each of us to make a short movie about a person, cause or non-profit which addresses some aspect of social justice. This melds a lot of my Franciscan values: creating something beautiful, amplifying the voice of the voiceless and the camaraderie that will form among us learners. This is a new way to do Franciscan Passages as it is not about giving talks that are pointedly about him and his writings. Instead, it is about putting his values into actions and inviting others along with me. I’m excited for this work we will be doing together, making movies.
So, that is where I have been and it is where I am going. I hope you will take a look at some of my movies: http://www.franciscanpassages.com/movies and if you live near Cincinnati, come see “Life of Prayer: Glimpses of Cincinnati’s Monastery” on the big screen with me on March 8th!