Lucca is a lovely walled medieval city an hour and a half train ride from Florence. I went there yesterday to wander through the streets with God. With such a beautiful day before me, the only church I entered was San Michele, where I lit a candle for some friends. Today God was most present out of doors. To be simplistic, that’s where God wanted to be.
I’m going to Italy on Monday for two weeks, spending one night in Rome and then taking the train to my beloved Florence, where I’ve rented an apartment for thirteen nights. When asked, I tell people I’m going to write, to walk, visit museums, read, to pray, and eat. To some I say that I’m going to walk around with God. That is always true but it can be off-putting to some. By their very nature, solitary trips are personal.
My last morning in Italy. What better place to visit than the Church of Saint Agnes Outside the Walls, and the adjoining Mausoleum for Costanza, daughter of Constantine I. Because this church was outside the Roman walls, Roman law allowed Christians to bury their dead in catacombs. The church displays Christian artifacts from the earliest times (second century) to the present. What a prayerful place, both at the grotto in the garden as well as inside the church.
The Mausoleum for Constanza was build in the fourth century. On a previous visit I was the only one walking around and around. Today students were sketching. Different forms of prayer.
St. Agnes Outside the Walls
Mausoleum for Costanza
I talk about my visit to the Chiesa di San Francesco in Fiesole in my cottagebythesea.net blog (posted below). Here I want to add some thoughts about faith.
I am especially drawn to this little monastery. If I were a monk it is where I’d want to live. But then, when I ask myself, “What if you had to stay here for three months (don’t even consider your whole life) and follow the same daily office and routine every day?” my fantasies disappear. I like routine, but I also thrive on variety and on anticipating future plans, my plans. As a monk, all I’d have would be routine.
The routine life of the monk is being in God’s presence and anticipating a future in the life to come, in life after death. Variety would only detract from this holy commitment. When I think of being a monk in these terms, I am humbled. Silence, solitude and simplicity, yes, but not all the time and not without variety and future plans in here and now.
"One of my favorite day trips from Florence is to Fiesole. Hop on Bus #7 at Piazza San Marco and twenty-five minutes later there you are at the top of the hill overlooking Firenze. The Duomo looms large.
There is much to see in Fiesole but I usually pass by the Roman forum, the local museums and cathedral, and climb the hill to the Chiesa di San Francesco. I can never resist talking pictures, and of course, blogging about it again.
On this early spring day, all was silent. I was in solitude, and yet the few visitors who came along offered a comforting sense of community to this miniature monastic complex. After all, those of us who had ventured to this out-of-the-way place must be kindred spirits in some way!
Every time I climb the stairs to gaze into the fourteenth century monks cells, I picture myself living in one of them. My AR (angel room) at home is not much bigger, but the comparison stops there. These cells are sparse—board for a bed, a desk and chair, Bible and cross. I won’t even begin to describe the AR! I will say, however, that these cells encourage me to simplify, to get rid of things, mainly books that are from another stage of life, books that I will never read again."
Here’s that cliché again: “Where does the time go?” Since I posted four days ago I have learned that the cottage isn’t available this year because the owner had a stroke and won’t be going south; and I have made plans to go to Florence (yes, Florence, Italy) from February 22-March 5.
Here’s the theological challenge. The elation that I’m experiencing as I plan my Florence trip is only possible because of my cottage friend’s illness. Had plans gone as expected, he would be playing tennis is Florida and I would be shoveling in Maine. My time and money would be committed to the win-win situation that he and I have had for five years, and that would be fine with me. But personally, this winter plan is working out beautifully. I’ve loved being home with my husband all winter, and now I love the idea that I will be in Florence visiting my favorite spots and writing in my favorite libraries and cafes.
I don’t feel guilty that I have this fabulous plan while my friend is struggling to heal; my good fortune hasn’t happened at the expense of my hia illness. That isn’t the way it works with God. God isn’t ‘up there’ pulling strings. Life happens, the good and the bad, the joys and concerns. We are called to pray and to respond in God’s way, which is the loving way.
P. S. Also, since I posted we have had 18 inches of snow and it’s still coming down. To quote my mother, “We’re not in charge of the weather.”
I promised that I would write about vulnerability, which along with availability makes up the rule of the Northumbria Community. But it is evening, and after a day in Boston I’m too tired to compose anything. So instead, here is a piece by Angela of Foligno (1248-1309), sainted by Pope Francis on October 9, 2013. I leave you to your own meditation.
"The eyes of my soul were opened, and I beheld the plenitude of God, wherein I did comprehend the whole world, both here and beyond the sea, and the abyss and ocean and all things. In all these things I beheld naught save the divine power, in a manner assuredly indescribable, so that through excess of marveling the soul cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘This whole world is full of God!’ Wherefore I comprehended how small a thing is the whole world…and that the Power of God exceeds and fills all. Then he said unto me: ‘I have shown thee something of My Power…Behold now My humility.’ Then I was given an insight into the deep humility of God towards man. And comprehending that unspeakable power and beholding that deep humility, my soul marveled greatly and did esteem itself to be nothing at all."
Yesterday I took Bus #7 to Fiesoli and then climbed the hill to my favorite little convent in all of Italy. I’ve blogged about it before and undoubtedly I’ll blog about it again. In fact, I plan to return there next week before I leave for home.
My favorite is section is the floor housing eight monk’s cells. I spent quite a while there, staring into the little rooms, imagining myself living in one of them. It was a Holy moment. Then, while sitting in the church, it poured rain…and then it stopped. That too was a Holy moment. Finally, peering into the tiny cloisters was also Holy. For certain this visit was the most solitary and silent time I’ve had since arriving here.
I go to one of those UCC ‘God is still speaking,’ churches, Memorial Congregational Church. And yes, God was speaking there today, as God always does. World Wide Communion Sunday, bread from many cultures, the youth helping the deacons serve communion. The message always at my church is God loves everyone, lead your life for Christ, and feed the poor.
This past week I have been to Assisi and so has Pope Francis. Assisi, the epicenter of the Christian message—love, care for the earth and all of God’s creatures. It warms my heart that the message I heard at my church today is the same one that Pope Francis proclaimed in Assisi. I am hopeful.
A few days ago I posted about Assisi but I have more to say because today, October 4th is the Feast Day of St. Francis and this year Pope Francis, the first pope to have chosen that name, is there to celebrate. The citizens of Assisi must be particularly elated as plans were made, satisfying hopes and dreams.
I was in Assisi in 2004 on the very day that Pope Benedict was elected. It was early evening and my friend and I stepped into a bar to see if the white smoke had risen from the Sistine Chapel. Indeed it had, and the TV was just announcing that Cardinal Ratzinger, a German, was the new pope. The owners of the bar, husband and wife, looked disgusted, turned off the TV, and went about closing up for the night. On the street outside a little nun, all by herself in the middle of the street, clasped her hands in gratitude. She had a ‘papa’.
Although my daughter and I only spent twenty-four hours in Assisi, I find that with each visit I feel a closer affinity to this little town on the hill, this hometown of St. Francis, this town that calls out to us to care for the earth, the animals, the poor. I sense that everyone who visits here, everyone who lives here, loves St. Francis. Many are Roman Catholic and of course one sees many Franciscan monks and nuns. But there are also the rest of us who, with our own thoughts about saints, know that St. Francis energy can only benefit us and the world. It’s already affected Pope Francis.
Home in the AR, the Angel Room, with all my favorite books, posters and angels. Happy to be here in this very private prayer place. I loved praying in the churches in Florence, but they are public. People come and go; some as tourists, many to light candles and pray. There’s much good to say about public worship and praying in community, but there’s also many benefits to being in that solitary space.