Travel Journal

Robert Holden On Living Your Purpose


In a few weeks time, I’ll be teaching on the St. Francis of Assisi pilgrimage, hosted by Dancing Spirit Tours. The theme for this year’s pilgrimage is Living Your Purpose. I attended the Assisi pilgrimage last year, and it was one of the highlights of my life. Places are still available this year!

I’ve been re-reading my journal entries from my Assisi pilgrimage last year. Here are some of my reflections on pilgrimage, purpose and following the holy plan for our life.

The Real Pilgrimage
It’s Day 3 of my Assisi pilgrimage. The beautiful town of Assisi is nestled into the rolling hills of Umbria. Fields of bright red poppies surround us. The pale blue skies are distinctly Italian and make me think of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. I can see the city of Perugia nearby from our hilltop hotel the Castello di Petrata. I’ve been away from home for long enough now that I can feel a space opening up inside of me.

St. Francis took many pilgrimages in his life, while St Clare rarely left her room. Both found inspiration in their own way. This is the fourth big pilgrimage of my life. I’ve sat underneath the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya. I’ve visited Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee. I’ve meditated in the caves of Arunachala. A real pilgrimage takes you to the heart of who you are. “What we are looking for is what is looking” is a quote commonly attributed to St. Francis. Sometimes you have to leave your neighbourhood behind – and your story – in order to remember a truth like this. We are the love we are looking for.

You are Your Purpose
Day 5: This is my third visit to San Damiano, the church where St. Francis received his soul calling. St. Francis was kneeling in prayer before the image of the Crucifix, when he heard Christ’s voice say “Francis, go and repair my church which is all in ruins.” At first, St. Francis interpreted this message literally, and he set about restoring the physical building of San Damiano. Over time, St. Francis realized that Christ was not referring to a physical building; but rather to a higher purpose.

Sitting here in San Damiano, I realize that my life purpose is not only about my actions and what I do; i.e. writing a book, running a business, raising your children, running a home; it is also about realizing my soul nature, and being the person God originally created me to be. In the story of the Cleansing of the Temple, in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the Pharisees that he could rebuild their church in three days. “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” the Pharisees protest. Clearly, Jesus was referring not to a building but to our spiritual identity.

The Basilica of St. Francis in spirited Black and White, with wisps flying high overhead.

Embracing the Oneness
Day 6: I have spent the whole afternoon sitting here on a rock, in the middle of the forest, at the Hermitage of Carceri. This is where St. Francis gave his Sermon to the Birds. The world knows Francis as a Saint, but the people who really knew him called him Brother Francis. Francis embraced the Oneness of Creation. He felt an affinity with Brother Sun and Sister Moon. He saw the divine in every creature.

Sitting here, I have been reflecting on this repeating sentence: “One way I could experience the Oneness more is …” By embracing the Oneness, we let go of all thoughts of separation, sin and shame. We naturally open ourselves up to inspiration, guidance and grace. No one is left out of the Oneness. It wouldn’t be the Oneness if that were true! What is the Oneness, I ask myself? Suddenly, I am experiencing wave upon wave of universal unconditional Love.

Becoming All Flame
Day 9: I could sit in meditation here in Porziuncola, forever. This is the little church located within the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi. It is where the Franciscan movement began. As I light a candle, I think about St. Francis’s example of divine surrender and his utter devotion to Christ (his spiritual hero), and to being a loving presence on the planet. A story comes to mind from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

“Abba Lot when to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can, I say my little office (series of daily Psalms), I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and, as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame’.”

Following Your Joy
Day 10: Tonight we dined with three Franciscan Friars who sang to us, prayed with us, and shared stories about St. Francis. They told us about the young Francesco, a high-spirited playboy, son of a wealthy silk merchant, a pleasure seeker, who lacked for nothing. And yet, Francesco didn’t feel fulfilled. In an effort to find greater purpose and meaning, he enrolled in a military expedition against Perugia and was taken as a prisoner at Collestrada, spending a year in jail. It was here, in utter darkness, that St. Francis first saw the light.

For me, St. Francis is a shining example of someone who gave up the search for happiness and followed his joy. He found his joy by digging deep inside himself. His joy became his spiritual GPS giving him guidance and direction. By following his joy he lit up the world. He became all flame. He was an instrument of peace. He became a spiritual hero to millions of people from all faiths. As my pilgrimage draws to and end, I leave Assisi with a renewed commitment to follow my joy. Thank you Brother Francis, for your love and inspiration.

On March 23rd at 11am PST and 6pm UK time, I will be a guest on a 30-minute Webinar about the St. Francis of Assisi pilgrimage, hosted by Nina Hirlaender of Dancing Spirit Tours. We will be sharing inspiration from St. Francis and information about the pilgrimage. Please register to join us!

Thank you for taking the time to read my journal entries. I am so grateful to have a community to share them with.

I wish you a beautiful day.


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