Brother Isaiah: Your Day-to-Day Life Matters
How the life of St. Francis influences Franciscan Friar Brother Isaiah Marie Hofmann
Brother Isaiah Marie Hofmann, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The CFR explained in an interview how the simplicity and story of St. Francis of Assisi inspired the music on his album "Broomstick." He also explains how he applies St. Francis' example to his daily life.
Note: The text below was shortened and updated since the original interview.
Jacqueline Burkepile: What is the story behind the album?
Brother Isaiah: The idea originally came from a story in the early life of St. Francis just after his conversion sometime when the community got together. After his conversion, he didn’t have a huge plan about what he was going to do. He experienced the mercy and humility of God, which is what started everything for him.
There is a story about how he would travel the Italian countryside from town to town while carrying a broom. He went into the old, abandoned, unused and churches, (some of them falling apart). Animals lived in some of them. He carried the broom to sweep the churches, and he would go out into the town square and tell people about the love of God. The funny thing though—the thing that captured my heart about this story is that people were captivated by him. I’m sure they could not explain why. He probably looked a little crazy. He wore a rough, coarse habit, and walked (probably) barefoot around the Italian countryside carrying a broom. He captured the hearts of everyone who heard him. They say when people saw him coming to their town, they ran to hear him talk about the love of God. What struck me about it, and (this was sort of the basis of the whole idea) is that he didn’t go out and do some big thing. He didn’t have a great plan of evangelization or success-- he just fell in love and discovered that God was in love with him. That love became a fire that impelled him to do something very simple: sweep churches. It was the idea of doing simple, little things with a burning love…It wasn’t like he was an amazing speaker, he just loved God and knew God’s love and swept, and people were totally captivated by it and encountered the fire of the Holy Spirit and the fire of God in Him. So something about this really simple thing was the first inspiration for the title [of my album].
Several of the songs were written while I swept. In my own life as a friar, there is plenty of time to sweep, clean rooms, move stuff and do the little things that are daily life. I think I wrote a lot of my music while doing little day to day chores. God Bless my brothers, but I tend to find myself singing when I do dishes, sweep, or do little projects. Since a lot of the songs came out of day to day life, they weren’t written with grand ideas, but out of day-to-day struggles, struggles while living in community life, or struggles in prayer. I think St. Francis has a great example in this story for everyone, because we tend to think of our day-to-day life as not very valuable to God, and my experience has been that that’s exactly where he lives, moves, breathes, and where he speaks to our hearts. That’s where he wants to love us and help us to know his love—in the simple, little things like sweeping. I wrote the songs while taking care of a house, life, and the little things. That’s where Francis started. I don’t think he ever wanted to get beyond the little things because that’s where God is. I hope, in some ways, that the music is a witness of that for people—that they will know the value of their day-to-day lives. That the struggles of parents, of office workers trying to get along with their co-workers, of relationships that are sometimes really difficult and tense and cause a lot of anguish—God dwells in all of that. He lives and breathes there and he has a word of peace to speak there. He wants us to pray from those places, not from spiritual heights that we are unfamiliar with, but from the spiritual depths of our day-to-day lives.
How the album came about:
Over the years, my Brothers encouraged me to make music and record it if the opportunity presented itself. Friends in Texas really supported it, and one person said, “Hey if you do this, I could help you try to donate and put some funds to it.” Another person said, “If you do this, I’ll help sing.” Another person said, “Hey I’ll play the drums.” Another person that works for an airline said, “I’ll get a buddy pass and fly one of the brothers out to help you.” Another friend said he would let us use his living room and recording equipment to record. The whole thing came about with grassroots of little people doing little things. None of us planned on ever taking part in something like that, but everybody brought their little “broom,” so to speak, and did their little part, their little sweeping, and now we have this little thing. It is a beautiful thing, because it is just packed with these little hands and the love of their hearts that make it something, I’d say, pregnant—pregnant with people’s lives, love, and desire to make something beautiful for God, and to let God make something beautiful in them and through them. It’s been for me a little lesson about what the Church can do. If we can all just sweep our little portion of the Church, we can make something beautiful here and to bring some beauty into the world. That’s kind of the root of Broomstick, of where it came from, and also what it became as we started working on it.
Jacqueline Burkepile: What is the central theme behind your songs?
Brother Isaiah: The struggle of prayer and day-to-day life: What is prayer? How do we pray? How do we find God in the midst of our lives? I think one big question is “how do we find peace of heart and peace of mind? Where does that come from?” I think a lot of [the album centers on] struggling with God…The first thing that comes to mind is probably the struggle of prayer…I think the Lord’s word, “do not let your heart be troubled,” seems to me something of a word that I felt through all of the songs. The Lord says, “do not let your hearts be troubled.” The songs are mostly me wrestling with, “how am I not going to let my heart be troubled?” So it’s about struggle and the joy that comes through the struggle.
Jacqueline Burkepile: What has been the response from the general public?
Brother Isaiah: The music project has gone surprisingly well. I’ve sold and given away plenty of CDs, which is neat, but I think my biggest joy is how people find the album in places I could never have imagined. Once I put it on iTunes and Spotify, it became available all over the world. I didn't think much of this when I first did it, but people listen to it in Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, China, and elsewhere. It's a total wonder to me, but also a confirmation about something I've pondered for a while now. Social media has the potential to be the new "marketplace" of our day. It obviously has its dangers and can be used poorly by humanity, just like anything else, but it can also serve the Gospel. St. Francis lived in a time when the urban marketplace first emerged, and he ran to it. He saw everyone gathered in one place, opened to what the other had to offer, and all he could think of was the potential this had to help him make "Love loved". He "invested" everything he had in the Gospel in this place, and he wasn't afraid of seeing how God could use it. All of that somewhat captures my heart right now, as I see social media presenting the same potential.
Jacqueline Burkepile: How do you think that this use of your musical talents has been fruitful in putting across the message of Christ’s love and the theme behind your songs? How has it been a way to express that?
Brother Isaiah: I think it kind of reminds me of the story of St. Francis in the beginning, but I think if it is going to be fruitful, the only way that it will be fruitful is if it comes from the heart. I didn’t have a plan to necessarily evangelize. The music comes from my heart, and it comes from my experience. It comes from my struggles with God…and coming to know his love. If that’s where anything’s coming from, and we do what we love, then it will be fruitful.
I think God put a desire on my heart for a great love of guitar and for music so that I would do it. When I do it, I love it. That’s fruitful. When we respond to the desires of the heart that God puts there, it’s fruitful in of itself. So, whether I made this album or not, one person playing music in a room with that joy of heart is just as fruitful as someone who can make a CD and send it across the world. Fruitfulness, I think, is measured by where it came from, and I think it came from the heart….We did really enjoy this, so any authentic joy is fruitful and transformative for ourselves and for the world.
Jacqueline Burkepile: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Brother Isaiah: You asked, “why single mothers?” (A portion of the proceeds from the album sales go to single mothers in need of assistance.)
Seeing and being humbled and inspired by the struggle of a lot of single mothers—there’s mothers who bring their kids through our soup kitchens or food pantries and there’s mothers taking their kids to shelters at night. There’s this one mother I think about—I see her face when I think of this project, and she’s living in a pretty disturbing apartment complex. She’s pregnant and said, “I’m just trying to keep my anxiety down so that my baby will feel none of this.” I just want to…share with single mothers that this is an amazing, heroic struggle. It’s one that’s inspiring, and it’s also not in vain. God sees their struggle, and he knows the frustrations and the times of lack of support. I hope somehow, in some other way, our culture would be a more welcome place for single mothers—that they know that they are loved and that there are people ready to support them. Also, to know just what a holy and heroic struggle it is. I’ve been absolutely blown away and if there’s anything that I can do to help in that way, that’s what I hope this music will go for.
And lastly…God chose to come into the world through an unplanned pregnancy, and so God is very familiar with that struggle, and all the potential fears and uncertainties that come with it, but also the beauty that can come from it. That’s what’s in the heart right now.
If you’d like to learn more about “Broomstick” or the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, please visit franciscanfriars.com.
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