1.Why did you write The Love Letters?
After visiting Assisi, Italy for many years and living there for twelve years, the lives of St. Francis & St. Clare of Assisi are very dear to us. So when Pope Francis was elected and for the first time in history a Pope took the name Francis, we became very excited. We wondered what could it mean if Pope Francis was really a brother of St. Francis of Assisi? What would the Church be like, indeed the world, if many people began living the heart and prayer of St. Francis of Assisi wanting to be instruments of peace and healing? What would the Church be like if it really embraced Franciscan humility, service, and joy?
2.Who was St. Francis besides being a lover of nature, all creatures, and the poor?
St. Francis had a fascinating life. In the beginning he was a troubadour much like any teenager interested in music, girls, having fun. After being caught and imprisoned the first day in a crusade against neighboring town of Perugia, Francis began the ask the meaning of life. He was in a small prison cell for a year. Afterwards he was ill and resistant to going into his father's clothing business. He wanted a life that had heart, a life that was true. He wandered outside the walls of medieval Assisi to nearby mountain tops and a church in ruins. In the simplicity of his days, abundant nature, and his opening heart, he found a peace that was greater than any peace. God spoke to him in words and in the beauty of nature and life all around him. The harmony and stillness around Francis touched a place inside of him of perfect harmony and peace. His heart began opening and continued opening as he found a great source of inner love, generosity, compassion, and joy. St. Francis is one of the world's greatest mystics as pilgrims of all religions have found as they follow in his footsteps.
3.If Pope Francis was to continue following in the footsteps of St. Francis how would the Church change? What would it look like?
One person, even a Pope, cannot change an entire Church. But Pope Francis has started by giving himself to the people and showing people that a true leader is here to serve other than being served. This is the central message of St. Francis of Assisi and the growing message of Pope Francis. The Church has become too isolated from the needs and hearts of normal people. Francis is calling everyone to open their minds to find God and to look into their hearts for spiritual meaning. Humility, compassion, and simplicity were the cornerstones of the little church of St. Francis of Assisi. So, we can only imagine if priests and bishops, brothers and sisters throughout the Church today find similar cornerstones for their lives. We all can only Imagine Catholics and people of all religions adopting the prayer of St. Francis to become instruments of peace and healing. I like to imagine a great outpouring of heart to the misunderstood, the ill, the poor in our neighborhoods and cities0 This would be St. Francis in our world today.
4. If individual Catholics, people of all religions, or no religion were to invite the heart of St. Francis into their lives what would they experience, what would they feel?
St. Francis spent much of his short life on mountaintops in the silence and beauty of nature.
There he asked to be left alone and undisturbed. As his mind was not so busy with thoughts of this world, he found a well of peace and joy in his heart. In the small grottos he lived he, we would curl up and be In the grotto of his heart. There he found simple peace. The deeper he went inside into the silence he found much light and an indescribable joy. This light and joy grew as he came down from the mountaintops and began serving the lepers and poor people needing love and food. Everyone who takes time to listen to the silence of their heart and practices service to others is walking in the footsteps of St. Francis. This is the path of many simple joys, what Francis called the path of perfect joy!
5. How did you come to become so knowledgeable and intimate with the inner life of these two saints?
Beginning in 1983 I began leading groups from many parts of Europe and America to Assisi.
We meditated in the places of St. Francis and St. Clare and would practice their prayers. Both Francis and Clare would offer everything in their hearts. After doing this for some days, people naturally find a silence, a peace inside. In the inner stillness many of the people in these retreats began having experiences described by Francis and Clare in their writings.
In 1999 we moved full time to Assisi. For the following twelve years we were more or less in retreat full time. It was a wonderful period to have so many days and nights, months and years living and being in the peace of Assisi. During this time we traveled to many parts of Italy where St. Francis discovered more of his soul and the spiritual journey.
6. What attracted you to them?
Like many people, I found religion to be more form then substance, more about rules then about opening the heart and finding a real spiritual path. Trained as a psychologist, I soon realized we are more then our thoughts and feelings. There is something more to each of us.
People are not happy unless they have a sincere spiritual life. St. Francis of Assisi had such a life. It doesn’t matter what we call it but a life without spirituality is superficial and empty. A life without compassion and service is not fulfilling. When I discovered St. Francis, I found someone who was all the substance I looked for. In his humanness, he found God. This is what I believed. As we make peace with all our humanness there is something more inside each of us. As our mind quiets down, we find a profound stillness in our hearts. In the many monasteries, mountaintops, and gardens where St. Francis lived, you can feel this peace.
It is not a matter of belief or imagination, in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi the presence of something greater is very present.
7. Do you think that Pope Francis can bring back the values these two espoused in
Every time Pope Francis enters the square of St. Peters and gets off his Pope Mobile and mingles with the people, he is expressing the spirit of St. Francis. Every time he touches the sick and asks us to feed the hungry, St. Francis is present. Most of all, it is in the Pope’s humility as he washes the feet of prisoners or the handicapped he is showing everyone that spirituality is in giving up our self importance and give to one another. As Pope Francis continues this path, hopefully more and more priests and people everywhere will understand
that what is important is not to be understood but that we understand. What is important is not so much if we feel loved but that we love. These values turn us as individuals into new people. These same simple actions can be an example for the Church and everyone who is looking for more meaning and a deeper relationship with life and God.
8. How did you so charmingly capture the voices of Saint Francis and Saint Clare?
After living in Assisi, Italy so long, visiting daily the places where Francis and Clare lived, their presence is so alive, you cannot help but begin to feel how they felt. You cannot help but hear the words that must have been in their heart. Reading the stories, sitting in the gardens, walking the many trails into the woods, Francis and Clare become very human.
Their hearts are the hearts of everyone in our fears and desires. Francis and Clare expressed the dreams and hopes we all have but don’t have an opportunity to really feel and express. We feel very blessed that we could spend so many years living in Italy, having coffee in its squares, wine with the meals, and living with the language and culture which is so much about life, having great heart, and simple joy.
9. This great love found by St. Francis and St. Clare, is it available to people today?
We don’t have to travel to Italy to find the love of Francis and Clare, although it definitely helps! The secret to their spirituality was their path. Today there is a saying we need to unplug, disconnect. This is what Francis and Clare did. They dropped out and found a great peace living in the beauty of nature and their hearts. God is not in the rules and ceremony of religion but in our willingness to be open minded and available for love. Francis and Clare were known for their great nakedness, poverty. This nakedness and poverty is in letting go of our self importance, finding compassion for those we judge, and sitting in the emptiness of our heart and finding a great presence.
10. Who should read this book? And why do you think it is important for people to read it?
The Love Letters was written for lovers! We are all lovers enjoying and suffering the same disappointments, dreams, and desires for complete union. St. Francis and St. Clare are two of the world’s most famous lovers although there is no evidence they actually had a physical relationship. They traveled deeply in the heart. In this journey they found the challenges and obstacles that all lovers find. Loneliness and complete union, fear and utter bliss…the path of lovers, mystics of all religions is very much the same. This book hopes to support the lover, the inner mystic in each of us . The book hopes to be a support for everyone who travels the inner path including the simple joys and mystery how our small hearts can feel so human and so Divine.
11. Tell us about living in Assisi?
Assisi, Italy is like many of the small hilltop towns in Tuscany and Umbria in the heart of Italy.
What makes Assisi different is St. Francis and St. Clare. There are so many small chapels and back streets where you are transported into another realm. There is really no other way to describe it. We have seen very ordinary tourists walking through Assisi who just begin crying. They don’t know why. Between their tears they say there is just so much peace here..
Celebrating Easter and Christmas are especially special In Assisi. To see the processions during Easter Week, to hear all the bells, and feel the energy, the days of Easter are very much alive. Most people don’t know St. Francis started the idea of a nativity scene some 800 years ago. Every Christmas there are nativity scenes everywhere, all around the town. Christmas in Assisi is the real Christmas without all the shopping, rush, and hurry. Assisi is the town of lots and lots of grace.
12. How do you and your wife Ruth live these values yourself?
Ruth and I now live in the hills near Napa, California. We live and run a retreat center called silent stay. Most of our days are spent in silence. Each day with our guests we have an hour of meditation in the morning, meditative movement, and another half hour of meditation in the evening. There are hundreds of beautiful acres around us. We feel very fortunate supporting others to disconnect from their busy lives and feel the silence. The peace and quiet of where we are living touches deeply our own inner peace and quiet. I am writing books and columns for the Huffington Post. But most of all, I enjoy a simple life of being a contemplative.
13. Has your retreat center, Silent Stay, brought these values to others? Tell us about it.
Many of our guests have never made a retreat before. This is fun! At first all the quiet is a bit unsettling. We tell them it is not really about not talking but enjoying peace and quiet. Their stay is several days of soaking in peace and quiet. The guests quickly get it and just enjoy. We offer lots of free time for them to wander, journal, take a nap, make cookies, to be free. For us, each retreat is all about the heart. So our guests are encourage to nurture themselves. We give a simple and clear meditation to practice while they are with us. Everyone is offering everything they find in their heart. Then each of us are going inside and receiving the gentleness, peace, our own experience of heart essence which is God inside of us.
14. You are one of the world’s leading experts on silence for spiritual connection and simple peace. How can someone embrace silence with our very busy lives today?
Making friends with silence is not difficult. We just have to take the step and enjoy it. The most difficult part of making a retreat for many people is actually getting to the retreat. Once they are here, enjoying peace and quiet is easy! People take time off and often suffer the stress and noise of making a vacation. A silent retreat is a vacation for the heart, simple joys, peace, and quiet. Our nerves feel much better afterwards. Taking the steps to get away has many rewards but most of all it is taking a step for ourselves. Underneath our busy mind is a whole realm of heart for us to discover.
15. Tell us about your other books and how they can help people return to this place of simple peace.
My first book was actually the first book about the inner child. It is called The Magical Child Within You. This book was a best seller all about not being so serious and remembering our inner child. Everything we do to touch our heart and the hearts of others is part of this path of remembering our inner child. My next book was called Monastery Without Walls. It is all about supporting the inner mystic within us. We don’t have to join a monastery but we do need to create our own monastery only without walls. There are several books I wrote but one of my favorites is Simple Peace about the inner life of St. Francis of Assisi. Another book which is about the magical child thirty years later called The Calling of Joy. It is all about listening to and following our joy as a path to our heart and simple peace.
16. Do believe that The Love Letters will inspire people to see their own path to the peace and joyfulness expressed by Saint Francis and Saint Clare?
The book business has changed much in recent years. It is very difficult to get a book known since so many bookstores, especially the small ones have closed. So it is mainly word of mouth that we hope people will share The Love Letters. Life is too good to not really enjoy.. We hope readers will find the love letters as a friend telling them not to hurry, slow down and smell the beauty. Sit in the simple peace and practice service in some part of our lives.
17. Are you sending a copy of your book the Pope? What do you hope he will say?
The Pope is a very busy guy. We don’t know if he would receive a book with all the mail he receives. We just want to support his big heart, his humility, and all he is doing to remind the world to judge less and love more. Who would have ever thought, the Church with all its problems would get a Pope like Pope Francis? Who would ever have thought that St. Francis, his life and prayer would come so front and center and challenge the world?
18. What thoughts would you like readers to take away from The Love Letters?
We hope that readers of The Love Letters will walk away feeling they are not alone on this inner way, this path of heart. People write us and tell us they are reading the letters a day at a time for a daily meditation. We hope the great love of St. Francis and St. Clare will inspire us all to spend more time in the silence of our heart, to hug more, and have fun. Life is precious. We pray for the day when all churches open their doors to everyone and embrace the heart in each of us. May The Love Letters spread until we are all writing our own love letters to God, one another, to especially those who are challenged in difficult and challenging times.
19. Your book is really about the inner steps of mystics of all religions. Tell us about these steps?
The first Christians went out into the desert to find Christ. We each are called to disconnect and spend sometime in the desert. What we will find is that the emptiness we fear is actually a vastness, a big space which includes the presence of God. As we take the time to explore this presence in our hearts we discover it grows and grows reaching without end for the planets and stars. This is the mystic’s way for pilgrims in all religions. There is so much for us to explore in the caves and gardens, rivers and ocean of our hearts. It all begins by taking sometime for retreat and receiving deeply the heart essence underneath our normally busy mind.
20. How can someone find this inner peace in our busy world and hectic schedules today?
Practicing not being in a hurry is a spiritual practice. Finding simple joys is a spiritual path.
Finding some compassion for difficult people, some generosity when we feel little all are things we can do in our normal busy lives. Feeding our hearts and the hearts of others is not in the big things we do but in the small moments of being present, available, receiving and offering ourselves. Meditation, even if it is just for a few minutes upon rising or going to sleep is a big gift for our soul. A few minutes of a quiet mind supports something deeper within us. A few minutes of conscious outer stillness can touch the inner quiet which is in each of us. It is all a matter of priorities, intention. If our intention is for more inner peace we will discover it in the elevator, car, and in the midst of the noisy parts of life. Inner peace is our true nature.
21. Is there an inner mystic in everyone or is the calling just for a few?
If we follow only the news we would think the spiritual path is for only a very few. The problem is that everyone who is following their inner mystic, the simple steps of the heart, we do not make the news. There are so many truly mystical people in all parts of the world quietly leading their heart full lives. We must be walking slow enough, open enough, present enough to notice. As we slow down, we will see hearts smiling in all kinds of people, lots of people everywhere.
22. Do you think Pope Francis will succeed? Can he really heal a problem Church?
In many ways Pope Francis has already succeeded. The Church is changed. In Pope Francis way of being, his wanting to serve instead of being served the Church is changed. Maybe he won’t be able to make all the changes necessary. But in showing his heart, his humility, and desire to touch the poor, the Spirit of St. Francis is very much alive and will continue growing.
23. What is your vision of the Church were it to be truly well, serving, and lifting hearts?
My vision for a true Church will be a time when people are taught to find their inner Church, their inner temple and cathedral of God. Finding God in our lives is not complicated. In simplicity of time in silence of the heart, beauty of nature and one another, and giving to those most in need, God is very present. I pray for the day when religion is less about talking and judging and more about hugging and serving. The is a great silence in the heart of everyone. In this silence is a perfect peace and path for each of us to follow. Everyone has gifts which express their heart. I imagine the prayer of St. Francis becoming alive for many as we become instruments of healing including lots of fun, dancing, humor, and life! Yes, lets all become instruments of much life, perfect joy!