Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis

This week I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dan Horan, O.F.M., author of Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis and creator of the popular blog by the same title DatingGod.org.

I have a great fondness for the Franciscans! My grade school and high school are still operated by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity of Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  My alma mater Briar Cliff University is run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, Iowa where I forged relationships with women religious who I still consider my earliest mentors and where I made great friends in the classroom, campus ministry office, and through community service events. Likewise, some of my favorite professors at Catholic Theological Union were connected to the Franciscans. My first foray into the publishing world was through Franciscan Media, and I am incredibly grateful for the support of many talented people there.

It should not come as a surprise then, that I was excited to read Dating God.  (Full disclosure: Dan and I shared the same editor at Franciscan Media, and the marketing department provided me with a complimentary copy of the book!)

Dating God is the perfect primer on Franciscan spirituality.  Even as someone immersed in Franciscan environments from a young age, there was still plenty to discover!  It also affirmed how much I had absorbed without ever realizing it.  If I am completely honest (even a bit embarrassed to say), I primarily associated Franciscan spirituality with the love and care for God’s creation and the blessing of animals that typically accompanies the feast of St. Francis.

True Franciscan spirituality, however, extends far beyond the affection we feel for our pets or a chance encounter with God while watching a summer sunset. As the title “Dating God” suggests, Franciscan spirituality is deeply relational. God strongly desires to be in relationship with all that God has created. Once we become engaged in this loving relationship with the one who formed us into being, then other elements of the Franciscan charism begin to take shape.  This includes ones dedication to community, a deep reverence for the Word of God, contemplative prayer, and acts of charity and works of justice on behalf of the poor.

The image of dating, which comes with a gentle warning from Dan to not over extend the metaphor, is used to describe the journey of encountering God, coming to know ourselves, falling in love, and a lifetime of commitment responding to God’s call.  It is a relationship that is best nourished when we intentionally spend time together, take time to truly listen to one another, seek forgiveness, and draw close to one another in prayer.  Dan describes the nuances of the God-to-human dynamic, relating it in much the same way that our human relationships take shape.

As I look back, I see the how the Franciscan sisters and priests of my youth nurtured my education, instructed me in the ways of service, and modeled the importance of community – and this Franciscan charism of living and loving in relationship with God and neighbor all makes so much sense now!

In my conversation with Dan this week, he admitted that his natural inclination leans toward more scholarly writing.  I think even the occasional visitor to his website would agree! Already, the Dating God blog has become a forum for hot topics and news worthy events of the day.  He openly encourages healthy dialogue and welcomes charitable commentary whether people agree with him or not.  Dan Horan is sure to be an important voice in our Church in the years to come.

The attraction, however, of Dating God (the book) is that it contains all the essential qualities of a great spiritual memoir.  He approaches his writing with honest self-reflection and a willingness to let readers into his own struggles and doubts.  He incorporates the writings of great thinkers like Francis, Clare, Bonaventure, Merton, Scotus and others who have influenced his life’s direction.  He writes with the freshness of a 20-something still immersed in graduate studies, at a time when vocational identity and career path is still taking shape. His reflections are rich with self-discovery as he seeks to make meaning out of his life experiences and time spent in prayer.  He beautifully weaves together age-old wisdom with contemporary references to Facebook, Wii, and Star Wars.

As he sorts out his own relationship with God, Dan draws readers into greater reflection on their own spiritual journey. Each chapter is tied together with a bullet pointed summary and questions for personal reflection.  No matter where you are on the relational journey – single, searching, seriously dating, married, divorced, widowed, ordained, or religiously professed – this is a great book for anyone who hopes to be more deeply engaged in their relationship with God.

As a testament to Dan’s Franciscan charism of living in loving relationship with others, my Catholic world became even smaller after our meeting.  Dan and I were surprised to discover that we have several friends and acquaintances in common.  I suppose one could attribute this to the small-world quality of the Catholic church, especially when it is merged with the even-smaller world of Catholic publishing.  At its best, I believe it is a testament to the way Dan forms and forges relationships with everyone he meets. Which, as I am learning, is a very Franciscan thing to do!

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