Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sacred Space -Assisi

I have only been to Assisi twice; but somehow - as often is the case with sacred places- a part of me has always been there.  A part of me, I hope, still remains so if I never get there again in person then I can be there in spirit.

Particularly for the second visit which seemed like a comedy of errors including driving (for the first time ever on the 'wrong' side of the road) across Italy, by myself, without a map having been diverted off the autoroute by roadworks and then, having arrived in one piece, finding my credit card deactivated - it's amazing how far 50 euros can go when that's all there is. Francis continuing to teach through example :)

Undeniably, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Medieval buildings of pink granite, turned golden in the sun. Hot red geraniums, bold against the dark blue of a Northern Italian sky: the scent of olive groves, rosemary and lavender, and good coffee. 

Magical, an inspired setting, worthy of the romance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

And if you had only a passing awareness of Francis and Chiara you would well imagine a romantic union between them; two young noble people in love.

And they were; but not with each other; or rather, yes, with each other, but with the vision of Christ that they saw in each other’s eyes.

A love for a Christ who is both Romeo and Juliet. Whose love is so all-consuming that he would sacrifice his life rather than live without us. 
A love for a Christ whose love is 
undeniable and eternal. 
Chiara and Francis, 
lovesick in their desire to live 
in the shadow of that love.
Assisi – a sacred space of love, 
un-possessing yet all-encompassing.

Roadside shrine
San Damiano - first home of the Poor Ladies (Poor Clares)
The entrance to the House of the Poor Ladies was guarded by the most formidable of the Sisters and could only be reached by a ladder. Imagine having to make such an effort, to actually need, actually want to climb a ladder to reach a place of such poverty and sacrifice.

Not the sort of ladder we would usually be interested in.

Because we do know about ladders; the ladders of success, of promotion, of fortune. The rungs that mean the move from second-hand car to shiny 4x4; from two-up two-down to two bathrooms and a second home; from punch card to platinum card; from GCSE to PhD. We need to know that we are on our way up; vertically challenged is not good enough; we want our heads in the clouds.

The Refectory - San Damiano 
And it isn’t just how we measure ourselves, we survey everyone else on our horizon – are they higher or lower than us? Envy or ridicule makes us dizzy as we not only strive to raise our own position but to keep tabs on those around us. Top or bottom, way up or way down, high or low – this is what matters. Our place in society; our place in the grand scheme of things; our point of balance flimsy and tottering; always on the brink.

wall carving San Damiano
If this is important, if this is what matters, then how could we measure our Christ, our Lord who started at the bottom, climbed a couple of rungs then fell off into the ditch where he died? If we are ladder people then we have to consider what that says about Christ – what that says about us – and why we still don’t get it.

The Hermitage

view of the Hermitage -
still 30 minutes walk to go

Who knows how long a walk?

Wrong shoes, no directions, no water in the middle of the day- the faith of a fool.

But there is an intent for this walk - a journey towards a leaving behind. The ego, the little I, the needy needing to be needed; and for what?

To prove that I am ‘good for something’; 
that I have a right to exist?
God’s been doing the hard work again –waiting - waiting for me to recognise myself in Him.
To realise that I may be an outsider but I am not outcast –
not from God’s Love, not from Christ’s Body.
To know that being ‘useless’ means being available to the Spirit’s desire. 
To understand that I can only be ‘useful’ to God by being empty, by being vulnerable.

And. Lord, seeing this, knowing this, does not make it easy. Not for a Martha like me.
left behind

But in this sacred space filled with the humility and devotion of Chiara and Francis may I find my own place at your table.
So I thank you, Lord, for the challenges and errors that got me here.
For showing me that nothing is impossible; 
that I am braver than I thought I was;
that I have  friends; that I have You.
Take my life Lord, fill it with Yourself.



Philomena Ewing said...

My heart and prayers are with you. Such a sacred place to be and I wish you all the graces and peace of the spirit of St Francis & Clare - amazed you drove there solo- quite a feat!!

Word in the Hand said...

Thanks Phil and peace be with you.
I still can't quite believe I did it myself. But it was certainly worth it.
blessings +

claire said...

Bravo, Word! This was quite a pilgrimage :-) I can feel your love for the place; and the impact it had on you.
Thank you for sharing with us your beautiful spiritual (and otherwise) adventure.

Margaret said...

It looks, and sounds, lovely.

Word in the Hand said...

It's a place you would find hard not to love. The sense of being in the very places, walking the very streets, seeing Chiara herself (not quite sure that being on show would have been her thing but her tomb is a powerful place). Seeing the clothes that Chiara has sewn for herself and Francis, their prayerbooks. A faith that spans ages. m+x

sattler said...

My appetite for a visit is well and truly whetted. I was especially struck by your ladder reflection. That instinct for hierarchy is so entrenched. All I can think of is Jesus taking the lowest place, washing feet. I suspect that until the Kingdom of God comes we shall never be entirely free of the urge to be one rung further up the ladder than someone else.

Word in the Hand said...

Having been totally wordstruck by our last two Sunday readings about preachers and priests needing to avoid being hypocrites (and including myself in that) I can only say that I hope the day will come - but we are certainly surrounded by the temptations of hierarchy. Francis' own brothers found it difficult - difficult enought to actually rewrite the rules after he had gone.
Thanks for visiting - blessings