Christin's Words from Sunshine Hill

If it is to be music
you must be present to it, must offer to it
a profound self-remembering.
-from Altar Music

Monday, October 31, 2011

TOMB OF ST. FRANCIS


The Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi is a magnificent structure fronted by an enormous square (on which we first saw the Beggar of Assisi). Inside are frescoes of the life of Francis painted by artists of the high Middle Ages such as Giotto. Here also is an ancient portrait of Francis, the only remaining fresco by Cimabue, supposedly the closest likeness of him that we have.

The pilgrims and art enthusiasts moved around the cathedral with heads tipped back, straining necks. Our small group was blessed to have Alex's vast knowledge and appreciation at our disposal. An amazing detail is that the construction of the lower church had advanced far enough in two years that Francis' body could be moved here from its temporary resting place. Again, taking pictures inside the church was forbidden, but if you are curious, you can find images on the Internet.

Beneath the main church is the chapel of St. Francis' Tomb. Somehow Bret, our pilgrimage leader and organizer, was able to arrange for us to celebrate Mass there. "In all my life," commented one of the pilgrims, "I never imagined I'd have a chance to receive communion right here, at the very tomb of St. Francis!"

It's an intimate space, almost as if carved out of the stone of the mountain. Here's a photo from the BBC, taken just after the first restoration in 800 years was completed this April.

Here words fail. What IS it about St. Francis? From where comes this falling away of all but God?  It feels as though we are taken into his spirit, somehow, becoming more than we are. This sense has been felt through the ages. You can see it in the frescoes: a consistent comparison, almost an identification of Francis' life with the life of Jesus. But it becomes personal--an "I am That" of the eastern traditions. Father Jose stood at the altar, his back to us as it would have been in the pre-Vatican II church. That felt right, somehow, even though I've spent much of my life studying and promoting renewal in the liturgy. The priest, in this instance, felt to me like the point on a wedge of wind, of spirit, bursting out of the community of pilgrims with Francis, as Christ, into the Divine Mystery of God. Once again I wept. What a strange phenomenon, these tears that just fall and fall without the accompanying sense of crying.

After Mass we walked with other pilgrims around the tomb. The tombs of his closest companions also are here, circling Francis. The tomb is not of glass, unlike that of St. Clare, showing a facsimile of the living person. Francis' remains are enclosed in stone. One pilgrim lightened my mood by quipping: "you know why Francis was buried in stone rather than glass?" No. "They didn't want people to see him turning in his grave." Oh. OK. The little poor man of Assisi, stuck til the end of time in one of the greatest basilicas in Christendom. 

Life is irony. It's a symbol, of course. This beauty all around his memory comes about as we try to articulate heaven, just as the book of Revelations with its golden and jeweled streets is also trying to articulate heaven. But we can't. We really have no words for that. We get a taste of it from time to time. Francis felt it in a cold cave in the mountains, in the kiss of a leper. What kind of irony is that?

Later we walked along the streets of Assisi, up to the main town square and the temple of Minerva, then spread out to enjoy the Saturday market and to find lunch. 

The temple of Minerva



Looking down a side street
The dome of St. Clare's
Little shrines are built into the walls






Saturday, October 29, 2011

RETURN TO GOD

This man wanders the streets of Assisi, smiling, crying out the Word of God, and carrying a knapsack for alms, though he blesses both those who give and those who do not. We saw him during both our visits to the town. Was he a charlatan, a fanatic, or a true and radical follower of Francis? "Ritorno a Dio!" he kept repeating. "Return to God." Wasn't that what Francis used to cry out?

I noticed that most people pretended he wasn't there and went on with their tourist activities. Of course one can't give to every beggar. (There were many, both in Assisi and in Rome--some of them with bodies twisted beyond comprehension.) This one, though: Who made that sackcloth robe for him? Shouldn't he have a bowl instead of a bag? But then, Francis asked for money, didn't he? To rebuild the church. If we gave freely to anyone begging on the streets, would everyone leave their jobs and homes and take to the streets? I don't think so. I think it's hard work to beg, especially if you have to do it every single day. It must become like a form of work, not all that unlike being a census taker, a bill collector, a lobbyist on the Capital steps in Washington. And if your work clothes itch -- well. . .

What if he was the best thing in Assisi? Wouldn't we have struck up a conversation with him? 

How does one tell a crazy person from a saint? I watched the Assisi Beggar climb the steps behind the Cathedral of St. Francis. "Return to God; Return to God!" He wasn't "normal." What saint has ever been normal? They are trans-normal. Francis went down the mountain to care for the lepers while everyone else was striving to go UP. "He's crazy," said the townspeople of him. He slept on rocks in caves. Afflicted with sores and blindness, he called his situation one of Eternal Joy. His heart burned with Divine Fire.

The other day I was reading a book that had nothing to do with Christianity. The author mentioned St. Francis of Assisi, calling him a turning point in the development of western culture, the first of the truly individuated persons. Up to then the collective had been primary. Francis bridged the times for us. In the stories we have images of him walking on the edge of the precipice in Laverna (like the archetypal Fool who sings and dances blindly on the edge of a cliff--the image of beginnings, of transformation)--images of him crossing the mountain gorge on the trunk of a tree blown down for his passage. He is the transitional man. (In his day many transitional men and women were executed for heresy.) Francis dodged that by his simplicity, candor, humility, willingness to be transformed.

Or -- so it seems to a novice of his Way which is (he would insist) the Way of the Christ.

This morning I'm just thinking this out, not even writing it in Word beforehand and pasting it into the blog. Just letting my fingers do the talking. First I pasted that picture in, and off went the fingers on the keys. If I sound crazy, maybe I am...

unlike Francis who looked crazy to so many, but was not. Yesterday I was reading an analysis of Beatrice of Nazareth, another mystic of the time of Francis, but spending her life in a Cistercian Monastery in Belgium. Scores of men and women across Europe in that era reported mystical experiences. Visions, sensory manifestations, the audible voice of Christ, etc. So the author asks the question I asked: how do you know they are sane? His rule of thumb is "how do these people act when they are not in the throes of a mystical experience, not at prayer, not in contemplation?" All of these people were not only functional, they were brilliant in their abilities to accomplish their work, to relate to others with compassion and good judgment, to take their place in the pattern of their social network, do be patient in their own trials, and the various other characteristics of a healthy, mature personality.

And what's not sane about the cry of the Assisi Beggar?  "Return to God." I, for one, when I look at the world these days, think that's pretty good advice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

WOLF IN WINTER



On October 4th, before reaching Laverna, we took a side trip to Gubbio. John and I were both eager to see this little town because of his book, WOLF IN WINTER, published in the mid-eighties by Paulist Press.  We watched for the scene he'd described in the book's opening:

"Gubbio grips the slope of Mount Ingino with all the tenacity and seriousness of a medieval fortress, stern as the cliffs rising behind it. It was the same in March of 1207. The city towers and the battlements on its outer walls had purpose then, protecting it from the raiders who poured out of Perugia, ruinous as the snow-swollen rivers raging down the sides of Ingino.
Atop the mountain, the monastery of San Ubaldo guarded the city and the Apennine passes. Even the cypresses ranged in columns on the hills had the appearance of sentinels. With the stiff movement of chilled watchdogs, their shadows stretched through the lavender dawn, patrolling patches of mud and dirty snow, leaping the low stone walls and grape stalks of the smallholdings outside the city."
(--John R. Sack, WOLF IN WINTER)
  

This story of St. Francis as a youth is the one that started it all for John, and so was greatly responsible for this pilgrimage in our lives. It is presently being reprinted by Tau Press and should be available in early November of this year. He’s since written two historical novels (The Franciscan Conspiracy, and Angel’s Passage) both of which are available for purchase. (Is this beginning to sound like an advertisement??? Hey, I love the guy AND his talent for writing. These are great books! And he is working himself up to yet another – resulting in a true trilogy of the longer, more sophisticated works. WOLF IN WINTER is more a young adult novel—but well worth the time of an old adult--such as I.)

               On our own way to Gubbio the traditional story of the wolf was retold by Alex, our guide to the spirituality of each place. As the tale goes, a wolf was foraging in the town of Gubbio. The townspeople worried for their supplies, their animals, their children and their own lives. St. Francis, passing through, offered to talk with the wolf to see if some arrangement might be made. And sure enough -- recognizing Francis's compassion and simplicity and truthfulness, the wolf and the man reached an agreement. The wolf would respect the town and harm nothing, and the people would feed the wolf.
               As he told the story, he kept referring to John, and pretty soon several pilgrims wanted to buy John's book which tells a rather more complex story, some of it from the point of view of Francis, and other sections from that of the wolf. Naturally, I'm not about to tell you John's plot or attempt to rebuild his fine characters here. Tau Press is about to send a whole box of newly printed books to Sunshine Hill. And they will be available both in trade paperback and for electronic books really soon. I hope you watch for them.

As we walked through the village on our way to the famous statue of Francis and the Wolf, we encountered another town market in the square.

I believe that every pilgrim in our group had a picture taken with Francis and the Wolf.



There's a famous saying: "God made humans because he loves stories." Stories of wolves survive in the mythologies of most European nations, and some very primitive ones feature the "Corn Wolf" which was literally the last sheaf of grain harvested, and was not to be eaten all winter, even if it meant that the people would go hungry. This wheat "belonged to the Wolf." In fact, this was the grain that would be planted in Spring, assuring the the survival of the people.

The Francis and the Wolf story seems, though, to add an important dimension to that more primitive one. Compassion. The open heart of Understanding takes the place of the closed heart of fear. Giving takes the place of hoarding as a way to survive. 




Tuesday, October 25, 2011

RETREAT AT LAVERNA IN TUSCANY

Before we left on pilgrimage, I told my friends I'd be at the tomb of St. Francis for his feast on October 4th, and I quipped that there would be a million others with me. Though I feel a bit claustrophobic in crowds, I thought such a crowd as this, all focused on the same awareness, could give off a spiritual energy in which I could participate. But it didn't happen that way, and I couldn't be more grateful. Instead, we all piled into the bus for Laverna in Tuscany to make a retreat in the mountain grotto where Francis was marked with the wounds of Christ--the phenomenon we call the stigmata.

We drove on steep mountain roads, around switchbacks, and gazed out at a landscape like that of a medieval painting. Sometimes villas graced the hilltops. 

Up here, on Mt. Laverna Francis had a hermitage on land given him by Orlando, a wealthy nobleman. We'd been told to bring warm clothes to ward off a freezing wind that usually blows in October. But as we walked up the last bit of mountain towards the sanctuary the sun shone warm and bright.


Back in 1224, Francis had just finished a forty-day retreat, praying and resting in a stone cave. He'd asked Christ to be able to share in his passion, and was pierced in his hands, feet and side by a seraphic fire. Reading of this from the classic THE LITTLE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI was something I hadn't done before the retreat, but have done now, and honestly, it took my breath away. The place is still "hot" from that fire. Was it the altitude that made it hard to catch my breath?

We descended into the cave of Francis, the place he made his petition.




This is the actual hermitage. The grate protects the stone bed on which Francis slept.

A painting of Francis contemplating/praying in the cave


Light catching the edges of a gouge in the rock

 


 John leaning against the rock at the precipice

We stood on a precipice where it is written that he was tempted, as Jesus was also tempted on a mountain, and then was saved from falling when he called upon God.

I can't do this. I don't know enough to do this. I know what I felt in that place. I felt fire in my heart. What is that? I absolutely do not know. What are spiritual experiences themselves? I don't know that either. They aren't emotional. They aren't cognitive. They can't be personally caused regardless of the perfection of techniques such as special breathing or postures. One author I read posits that such experiences are psychosomatic reactions to the touch of God -- the Divine Touch itself cannot be felt, but the body cannot help but respond, even in quite dramatic ways.

What did Francis feel that resulted in those bodily wounds? Was it the same thing that St. Paul felt which caused him to say, "I bear the marks of Christ in my body"? Other than Paul did any stigmatic exist before Francis? I don't remember being told of any. But during just my lifetime there have been--how many?--I think hundreds. Does the body respond to that suggestion once the mind is aware of it?

Does it matter?

"Deus meus et omnia" Francis cried as the Divine Fire pierced him. The words are in gold above the chapel of the stigmata. "My God and My All". I stood in the long hallway afterwards, after the procession had wound towards that chapel singing the litany of Mary. Why Mary? Because she said "yes." She said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Your will." Francis also said "Yes." The obvious question: will I? Every moment, will I?

The invocations of Mary's Litany rang out in Latin: Rosa Mystica --Mystical Rose, Vas Spiritualis--Spiritual Vessel, Vas Honorabili--Vessel of Honor, Domus Aurea--House of Gold…

A voice in my mind murmured, "Weren't you once going to write a meditation book on these invocations?'
"I was."
The voice again: "It's time."

Yes. Yes, it is.

Monday, October 24, 2011

TRANSITUS

TRANSITUS,  Latin for: PASSING OVER, CHANGING, TRANSIT, CROSSING, FINISH, SETTLE, END, TERMINATION.

At the spot in the basilica where (before the basilica was built) St. Francis died is a gate behind which are a blanket, candle, and flowers. We kneel there. I take a picture. This is the physical place of his crossing from one life to the next. Is there an intensity in the air here? Is there an opening in the fabric of space and time? I'm new in this relationship with the "little man from Assisi," the "troubadour of God." The people with whom we traveled, most of the other pilgrims, were professed to follow his Way as Third Order Franciscans. Among them I was very much a novice. But despite this I think that I could feel his spirit, his burning love, his desire that God be his All.

Outside the basilica, preparations were taking place for a parade in the square at St. Mary of the Angels. For hundreds of years this feast and the next day's feast of St. Francis were a national holiday in Italy. Each district brought its produce to the square, bands played, people danced, politicians pranced, flags were waved, costumes were worn. It's still happening. John and I, along with some of the other pilgrims, sat or stood for a while where the marching band had gathered. Then we wandered around the square. What a swirl of emotions! Deeply spiritual intensities with carnival atmosphere, with medieval traditions. 

 The local band gathers. A real community representation of musicians including quite young children, not shown on this picture



A more cultural/traditional musical group

"We shall come rejoicing, carrying the sheaves."
 The wheat-growers were featured at this celebration--each one carrying two more sheaves than the last, up to ten.

Royalty??


Each city sent its own police representatives with their own unique uniforms

Lots of flags

I just LIKE this one :)


"Mary of the Angels" for the day. These children were carried on the shoulders of young men--on large wooden planks--bounced up and down so the angels' wings would flutter.



"Hummm...tell me again--what does all this have to do with the transitus of St. Francis??"




Saturday, October 22, 2011

BELLS AT MARY OF THE ANGELS

Bells rang each morning at seven. I pulled open the long drape and stepped out onto the little balcony where I could see the bell tower of St. Mary of the Angels and watch those bells swing. Sound summons inner experience. Bells of Sacred Heart church in the little town of my childhood. Bells of St. John's University in Collegeville, MN--pretty much unparallelled in my experience. The smaller bells of adoration. I've missed the bells that I now hear so much less often.

On Saturdays John and I give ourselves time and silence for retreat--for prayer, contemplation, spiritual reading, walks in nature. We'll be remembering all of you who visit us here. And I'll tell you all about the Transitus Celebration no later than Monday.

Friday, October 21, 2011

SAN DAMIANO

The morning of October 3rd we went by taxi to San Damiano, the ancient stone sanctuary where Francis once heard the image of Jesus on the cross speak directly to his heart. "Rebuild my church," was the life-mission the young twelfth/thirteenth century man was given.  He took the command literally, and began reconstructing the sanctuary stone by stone. This action grew into a metaphor for a renewal of Christian life which has spread across the world, continuing to have influence for both religion and culture in our contemporary world. Later a noblewoman from Assisi named Clare, influenced by his life and teaching, joined him and his growing community of friars. San Damiano became her monastic home, the place she lived and died among a growing number of holy women including two of her sisters and her mother. These were the first Poor Clares.



The taxis parked downhill from San Damiano and our pilgrim group began the trek up the cobble-stoned road. I snapped a photo of the welcome sign with a yellow notice of this day being that of the "Transitus" or the anniversary of transition for Francis from an earthly to a heavenly body, or his passage from earthly life. "We praise our sister, bodily death," he once prayed. Behind the sign was a bronze statue of Francis contemplating the valley, down into the area where the lepers once were confined and where he went often with his brothers to nurse and care for their wounds and other needs. 



Just outside the monastery door is a statue of St. Clare raising a monstrance that held the blessed sacrament. The story is that during a war with the Saracens, as the soldiers marched up the mountain to raze the town of Assisi, she stepped out of the monastery and raised this holy object before them, miraculously stopping them, and the town was saved. I think of the wealth of our stories and the way that over the centuries they are refined and molded by the generations to speak truths otherwise impossible to articulate. What really happened? I wondered as I gazed at the statue. I've no doubt she confronted the soldiers with this holy object. But what really happened then? Were they stunned? Did they laugh? Did they see just a small woman standing in front of a tiny stone church and decide the whole campaign wasn't worth it? Or did they sense the present of the Sacred and, filled with fear, turn from their original intent? 


We entered the doors of the monastery. Inside there could be no photographs.
 In the vestibule




Here is a humble refectory where the Sisters ate their simple meals; here is the table where Clare sat. Here is the room in which she died; here is the very corner of the room; here is the window from which she could see the landscape winding down the hills; here is the little door through which the dying Francis was passed for her to say goodbye.

I stood where she died. Tears again. And my sister, Liz, came to mind. That morning I'd asked the pilgrims to pray for her. She's in her ninth year of battling stage four breast cancer. "I'm walking this pilgrimage for her," I'd said. And there in front of the place of Clare, Liz seemed to stand within me, the two of us one person, sharing this sacred space and the courage of another woman, Clare. Prayer has become not so much an asking for this or that, but a surrender, a being with, an opening of the heart, a trust in the goodness of the Holy God.

The stone stairs to the room where the sisters slept had been worn and polished to a shining curve that angled down.  Almost a thousand years of feet had climbed them. At each one I whispered a prayer for my grand-niece, Varrah Claire. May she shine. May her heart be generous. May her feet walk the way of love.

We celebrated Mass in the San Damiano chapel. Our pilgrim priest had the grace to truly pray publically. His was not a liturgical performance. His words (ritual words) seemed to originate in the core of his soul; he used no book; he spoke as though each of those words welled up from his depths, joined the air, and infused each of us and then continued on as air continues. How can the heart not burn to be part of something like that? 

 The Cloister Walk as seen from the dormitory window.

Tomorrow: The Transitus Celebration

Thursday, October 20, 2011

PILGRIMS ON THE ROAD TO ASSISI

Yesterday was my volunteer day at the parish, and besides taking Holy Communion and a San Damiano cross to my dear Millie who has a lifetime devotion to St. Francis, I also took my laptop with all 668 pictures of the pilgrimage. Telling her the story, I often found myself pondering over one or another picture -- let's see; where did I take this one? Already my memory of places and images are beginning to fade, but the imprint on my heart is not.

Early in the morning of October 2nd, we left Hotel la Villetta by taxi for the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport to meet the other pilgrims and ride by bus to Assisi. The plane from Georgia had landed and Bret, with the pilgrims from the East Coast, already stood or sat by the red Meeting Post. John began immediately to match names from our pilgrims' list to real people. He's quick at that and soon knew who was who and where each one lived. Bret wandered with a clip board and checked people off. Some were on different flights as we had been. A woman from England arrived. Another from San Francisco. A group of Philippino women from Tokyo, a Japanese man and his wife, a priest, and another couple from the States who had arrived early were staying at a hotel in Ostia, and the bus would pass by there to pick them up.

These sorts of details are about all we knew of one another at the beginning--this, and that the priest was in no hurry to get on the bus--a characteristic that eventually became endearing, even peaceful in its ability to slow the pace of the world we just had left to correspond to the one we were about to enter. Bret reminded us that a pilgrimage takes us into the unknown, into strangeness, away from the familiar. It is sometimes uncomfortable as the boundaries of our lives stretch to accommodate new experiences and living situations. The travel can be difficult and tiring. We would very likely become tired. But each of us could expect some kind of transformation, if not right during the pilgrimage, then at a time closely following.

The bus rolled out of the space in front of the hotel, all on board, and we set out through the countryside for Assisi. Bret pointed out an archeological site, and I tried to take pictures from the moving bus. 



In two or three hours we had our first glimpse of Assisi, a medieval town on a hill in prehistoric Umbria where both St. Francis and St. Clare were born, lived, and died. 



The bus passed beautiful St. Mary of the Angel's Basilica, the site of the "Porziuncula," constructed by Francis and his friars as their first place of life and worship.



Right alongside this amazing church the bus let us off at Domus Pacis, the religious hotel where we would be staying for the next six days. We checked in, rested for a brief time in our rooms, and then all of us walked to St. Mary of the Angels for a visit to the Porziuncula. I had no particular expectations.

A small stone chapel sits right in the center of a Romanesque church that is like a cocoon around it. I was not prepared. I had not read enough. I didn't count on the spirit that would inhabit this place, the impact of prayer uttered over the centuries, the tangible devotion of my companion pilgrims, the power of seeing a woman in a shawl who was huddled on the step and leaning on the cast iron grille between the pilgrims and the altar with its icon of the Annunciation. Something both intimate and magnificent, ripping and like a kiss, piercing and fire-like broke my heart, and I began to weep.

In the past almost seventy-one years, whenever I've wept, I've known the object of my weeping. Joy or sorrow. A loved ones death. A kindness shown. Birth of a child. Impotence in the face of another's pain. Always 'something.' These tears at the porziuncula felt purely without object. They simply fell.

One of the pilgrims touched a stone. "Francis touched this very stone," she whispered. I touched it also. Yesterday I was attempting to describe this touch-devotion, which seemed to continue in various places throughout the pilgrimage. There seems an almost irresistible magnetism drawing human beings to touch what is loved or considered sacred. I think of the times I've touched the petals of a rose, let sand sift through my fingers, kissed the soft head of a newborn, held the hand of a beloved, run my fingers over the beautiful face of a child, my mother, my husband, my sister. I've kissed my fingers and laid them on the heart of the icon of Christ. Now I've touched these stones. I remember this moment the first time I touched the tomb of a saint. It was in Montreal. It was the tomb of Brother Andre (canonized in October, 2010). He'd been a special friend of Sister Ann, a member of the religious congregation to which I'd once belonged, so I made a special point of visiting his tomb. Tiers and tiers of candles, surrounded his marble sarcophagus. I stood before it, praying for Sister Ann -- and then it came to me to lay hands on that place above his body. Something like electricity came out from there, up into my arms and into my heart.

Two things: there is a prayer of touch. Every mother, everyone who's ever loved, every nurse and care giver knows this. The woman with the issue of blood in the Gospel knew this. Jesus knew. "Who touched me? I felt power go out from me," he said.

The second thing: The ego cannot interpret such experiences. It's best just to hold them lightly, let them happen, let them go.

In Assisi all I know is that I was unable to stop weeping.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A DAY IN FIUMICINO

Vatican gold won't leave my mind. Last night I took out a book given me by a dear friend a few years ago. It contains gorgeous photographs of the Vatican, breathtaking shots of much we had seen and much more that we had not. "All that gold," the mother's song from Amahl and the Night Visitors streams through my mind, the aching soprano tones, "oh, what I could do for my child with that gold." Even the book in my hands is trimmed with what resembles gold. Bret, our pilgrimage leader, reminded me that Pope John Paul II requested that Mother Theresa's sisters establish a house for the poor close to Vatican City. "It is on the south side where you were staying--the poor section." And last night, when I turned a page, I saw a picture of one of the Sisters of Charity beside a door I was pretty sure I had walked past on the way from the Vatican to little St. Pietro's House. Three pages of this book of gold had been devoted to their work in Rome, feeding, giving shelter and medical care to the poor.

This morning we prayed the Divine Office honoring St. Luke, the writer of the Gospel bearing his name. Much of the imagery was that of the heavenly city with its golden streets and jewels, and the saints of that city of whom it was written:

"You are like sparkling gems on high
Reflections of the Lamb's own light,
The stones on which Christ built his Church
That we might reach God's vision bright."

Of course! I thought. All this gold is our feeble attempt to express that heavenly city in the core of our souls. And it is the poor who walk there. All of us, really, who are poor in some way or another. And we are the sparkling gems that line the streets of gold. The kings in the opera about Amahl sing: "Oh woman, you can keep the gold. The child we seek doesn't need our gold. On love alone he will build his kingdom, and the keys to his city belong to the poor."

We do our best to express what we hold most sacred.

But I was going to write about Fiumicino. It was October 1st. After breakfast Vincenzo dashed out into the street to hail a taxi for us, and we were off for Fiumicino. Our original plan was simply to stay near the airport for greater ease finding our pilgrim companions the next morning. In half an hour we were at Hotel La Villetta with a whole day to spend in a little fishing village where the Tiber River empties into the Tyrrhenian Sea. 



After settling in at our lovely little hotel with its personal patio shaded by lime and olive trees, we did some wandering. In town the streets were transformed into a marketplace, and we wove in and out among the tents and tables of food, clothing, and wares.



On the other side was a main street with a cafĂ© serving delicate pastries, various Italian coffees and gelato. We had some of each, and were visited at our table by a drum playing Somalian man with a kind face and a pocketful of little African elephants and turtles that he gave away as gifts. His dream was to come to the United States and get a job. 



We moseyed back to the hotel, got lost, and ended up by the river. 

Fishing boat arriving in evening


 Nets

 Mary, Star of the Sea, at the entrance to the river.

 Fishing from the Wharf

My life had its beginnings by water--the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods in Minnesota. The natural world is my environment. Cities wear me out. Fiumicino made a restful transition from Rome to Assisi and I'm remembering it with delight at the same time as I feel Assisi pulling at my heart again, as it did the nearer we came towards it. And then, once we were there, it increased its magnetism. What will I feel when I begin giving words not just to the outer journey, but the inner one as well?


 Next: Pilgrims on the Road to Assisi