Peace and Tranquility

There are some characters in history with whom we feel a particular kinship. When many of us were adolescents we read the story of a young girl whose words rang true with the longings, the questions, the frustrations and the hope we felt in this often turbulent life season. In whichever English class we were required to read The Diary of Anne Frank, most of us became intrigued with the ways in which she wrote of her life held captive in the attic of an Amsterdam building. Whether male or female, our classrooms buzzed with her telling of a time that was not far from the memories of parents. If we were paying attention we made this connection and, what may have been lost on us in history class about war and the profiling of certain groups of people, awakened in a literature class. Anne’s arguments with parents and other adults and her love interest in Peter who shared her captivity was something we understood. Her tragic death sealed her life story forever in our memory.

Today I was privileged to visit the Anne Frank house and museum in this city ripe with canals and bicycles. The simple and profound way in which this experience has been created is a marvel. Beginning on the lower floor, we were able to see pictures of Anne, her family and those who had risked their lives to hide them full of life. These people looked ordinary and not heroic at all. Snippets of interviews with Anne’s father and others who survived seemed to lure us further and further up the narrow and winding stairs.

At one point I was keenly aware of how the wood on the steps was worn, a little valley of footsteps going upward. I thought of the fact that my feet were now being added to all those who have come to pay homage in this place and also the footsteps of Anne herself. All this walking led us past the bookshelves built to hide the entrance to the secret rooms and into the living quarters, now empty of furniture and decoration save for the pictures of movie stars and postcards Anne had glued to the walls more than seventy years ago. I was reminded of the teenagers rooms I have seen and how this pattern is in many ways universal…..the need to make a space with an imprint, a way of saying ‘this is my space….I am here…..I am alive.’

Finally the curving hallway leads into a room with the actual diaries. Ink on paper, blue and black, words that tell a story of a young girl’s hope of being a famous writer. Red ink is used to edit some of her writing, her own edits, a young writer hoping to be a better one. Without the benefit of a teacher, Anne edited and corrected her own words. Her desire to learn, to stay in touch with a world that was walled off to her fills me with awe. Her sister Margot continued studying Latin through a correspondence course and had one of the women who hid them act as if they were her lessons. This furthers my amazement.

And yet this is the power of hope. With their world as they knew it crumbling around them, they kept up the pursuits of education, intellect and plans for a life of freedom. My amazement comes from their courage and my wondering. Would I, under similar circumstances, do the same? Can you even imagine it? I find it difficult to do so.

As we walked through both the house and museum, there were languages being spoken from all around the world. The visitors were made up of all ages. Young girls looked at photos of someone not far from their own age. Young boys read words much like those of their classmates and sisters. Parents held their children’s hands perhaps a little tighter. Grandparents,many of whom had real memories of this historical time, had faces of a knowing sadness.

On one wall, pencil marks were visible…..the accounting of Anne and her sister Margot’s growth while they lived in these close quarters above a business and behind a fake bookshelf. I thought of all the doorways and closet walls around the world that hold similar marks. In one diary entry Anne said: “I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death… I think… peace and tranquillity will return again.”

For all those places in the world where there is no peace today. For all those places where children suffer and are in fear. For all those places where parents and grandparents are frightened for their children. For all the young girls and young boys whose future is uncertain. May the God of mercy bless and keep them all safe from harm this day. And may their future open in tranquility before them.



Allora. This is the Italian word we have heard over and over again in our daily walk. It can mean a myriad of things….so…well…therefore…let’s see….and seems to be tacked on the beginning of a sentence or in conversation to buy time, to wait for the right words to arrive, to hold another’s attention while you figure something out. It is even more charming if you have the ability to roll your ‘r’s’.

Allora. So…it is time to take our leave of this amazing country and this captivating landscape. We have seen mountains and valleys, fields full of olive trees and vineyards, the sun shining on the green and golds creating fully alive works of art. We have traveled to enough churches and cathedrals and basilicas to have us all trying for weeks to sort them out. Many were over the top in gold-gilt, frescoes and paintings with marble statues lining the walls. Others were simple, plain with only the sunlight shining through windows and incense to create an art of a different form. All to make a sacred place where people might encounter the Holy. When you travel with a group, you get to experience those things with which you felt only a small connection through the eyes of another whose world was moved by it. What a gift.

Last night as we gathered on the rooftop garden of our hotel only blocks away from the Vatican, we shared those things which had been blessing, those experiences we would take away from this pilgrimage. Like the art we had seen and the sacred places we had visited, people’s comments represented the fullness of form. Many will take a sense of simplicity while others will be bathed for days to come in the magnificence of the art and its opulence.

When it was my time to share what came to me was the realization that the majority of the architects and artists began a work they would never live to see competed. One dome in a church we visited took 140 years to complete. Several lifetimes in those days. I thought of how often I want to see results. Now. Not in a week, a day, a year. Now. What does it mean to come fully to the knowledge that what we create, what we work for, what we hope for, may never be seen by our eyes, in our lifetime?

One gift of travel is that your eyes are opened to the longevity of the world, its places, its people. Being surrounded as we have been by the ancient and lasting, I have once again been confronted with how often I make my living small. With the minute details and worries I fashion for myself. With my way of forgetting the vastness of the Universe and the beauty and complexity of its people. With the many ways I pretend as if I am not connected to the fullness of it all. Has this ever been your experience?

Allora. So….then….it is time to move on and take the gifts of being a pilgrim at this time, in these days, in this one particular and precious life with me into the next days. The fullness of it all may not be realized for some time. It may take hours and days of reflection. But each day is a beginning toward something I may or may not see come to fruition. I feel as if I am in good company in that.



Amazing Grace

There are so many things that we can decide divide us as human beings. There are nations and languages. There are different political and theological views. There is certainly economic status which influences the places we live and the kinds of work we do. There are racial and sexuality divides. Over the course of humanity we have built up so many ways to create a divide where perhaps one really does not exist.

But one of the things that can unite us is music. Yesterday as we continued our pilgrim path in Italy, we had a full bodied experience of how music can bring seemingly disparate people,from various countries, speaking several languages together. In a church. What a gift it was!

Several members of our traveling band of pilgrims had the privilege to worship at the Waldensian Church in Sienna. We had made contact with the minister of this church, named Martine, and she knew we were coming for worship. When we arrived at what we thought was a respectable time before the service, the doors were still not open. Soon a young woman arrived, in a hurry, carrying a black robe slung over her arm. She was the minister of the church and she had the keys! She busily unlocked the doors and we entered a simple little sanctuary void of any of the opulence we had seen so far in many of the churches. But its simplicity and sweetness felt like a refuge that could hold us.

We sat down on the hard wooden benches as worship was about to begin. We were told that a young American woman who attends the church would be translating the scripture and the sermon for us. This young woman looked at us with both joy and a bit of apprehension. It is indeed a responsibility to, on the spot, translate the words of the minister. How much to include? What to focus on? What to leave out of the interpretation?

Our group had filled many of the pews. There was only a handful of ‘regulars’ to the church and this group included several from Cameroon, including three small children dressed in their Sunday best. Also in attendance were three people from France. Our minister right away had told us that ‘her English is not so good.’ Her words spoke truth but her face, her very presence, spoke welcome.

We listened to what must have been some kind of call to worship and a prayer. We sang, unaccompanied on any instrument, with Martine leading us in her strong alto. The first three hymns had tunes familiar but whose Italian words had us pulling on any Latin or Italian we had picked up in church or school choir. Our voices filled the room with strength and a certain spartan beauty.

But it was when we all sang together, ‘Amazing Grace’ that everything shifted in the room. It was so clear that Martine had chosen this familiar hymn to be an olive branch of hospitality and connection. And her instinct was a good one. In at least three languages we sang boldly and sure. “Amazing grace….how sweet the sound……”

And indeed it was. At that moment we sang and breathed as a community of faithful, all from different places with different experiences of life and the world. Though our languages were disparate, our hearts were joined as one. All the ways in which we may have come into the room divided fell away. We were a simple group of faithful held together in a simple place by an equally simple tune whose melody and words had, at some point in our living, been carved into our DNA.

As we heard the scripture read in both Italian and English, the story of Abraham and Sarah learning that they will have a child, Sarah’s laughter rang out. The message of God’s willingness to do new things, unimaginable things, was clear in both word and action. Where a community had existed, guests had been welcomed and for this particular Sunday in the course of the world, music had made something new of us all. As we greeted one another after the service, we learned that we are all celebrating similar things and equally struggling over others.

But for one suspended moment in time, we were all one through singing together. It truly was Amazing Grace……


Have More

“I waited in a world of magic
smells of good food, the street lamps, the
smoke coming from chimneys,
the candles burning in windows, the snow.
Angels feasted, as I did, on existence and God
kept saying, “Have more of what I made.”
~Catherine of Siena

In Florence yesterday, it was as if the Holy kept whispering in my ear….”Have more of what I made.” Over and over again, around every corner, down every street, in every face that approached, there was beauty. “Have more of what I made.” The smells of good food and the smiles on faces as they tasted the rich flavors of their gelato…..have more of what I made. The light falling on golden buildings creating sights that seemed to be paintings come alive as if by some spiritual force unknown, but seen. Art everywhere. Everywhere. Have more of what I made.

We began our morning gazing skyward at Michelangelo’s David. There are no words to describe the sheer presence and power of this sculpture. Leading up to the marble statue, there are other blocks of stone, unfinished pieces by this artist who lived to be 89 years old. Unheard of longevity for his time but it seems it would take more than a hundred lifetimes to produce the magnitude of art which he created. These blocks of stone represented his understanding that the statue, what was to be created, already existed in the stone. His work was to simply carve away what was not needed in order to reveal to the world what was hidden. This metaphor for our own lives was not lost on me. What must be chipped away in order to reveal what beauty is hidden in the soul?

The day was held in color and texture, in sight and smell and sound. Coming around one corner, we found ourselves on a piazza. People stood all around as a young woman, in jeans and a black t-shirt, held a microphone. Sitting nearby a young man sat with an accordion. Her gorgeous soprano floated out over the piazza, the opera that was born in the very air around becoming a presence in the open sky. The notes rose heavenward and as she finished the aria, our eyes glazed over with tears of gratitude and awe. So much beauty.

At day’s end, I reflected on the beauty that had been my food, literally and figuratively, during the day. The question became, ” Is it possible to have too much beauty?” Is it? I don’t believe so. I do think there comes a point at which one needs to step back, open your heart once again, and simply hold the beauty as it finds a home in you. I wondered, as I always do in such situations, if the people who make these places home begin to not notice, to take the beauty for granted, to not really see. I pray not.

Have more of what I made. Catherine of Siena is said to have placed these words in the mouth of the Sacred. Certainly that was my experience yesterday. It was as if all the beauty, all the goodness, all the possibility of human creation was spread like a feast before me. My only work was to pay attention, to notice, to be filled with wonder and to lift up my grateful heart.

And so I did.


Sounds of Silence

Yesterday I had the privilege of being in the presence of the Holy. In the scriptures, Elijah is called by God not through anything remarkable, like an earthquake, but through the sound of sheer silence. We often think of the Sacred’s presence as something large,perhaps get-your-attention loud, something that shakes us up and this can be true. But most often, I believe, that the connection with the One who breathed us into being comes in our quietest moments, in those times when the sounds of machines, motors and our ever busy minds grinds to a halt. This is what happened for me yesterday.

Far up the mountain in Cortona, Italy sits the Monastery of Le Celle, the place of the cells. This architectural gem is nestled in the terraced stones and vegetation is a place where St. Francis met and formed those who wished to follow in his footsteps. Walking inside the tiny chapel carved out of stone where he prayed, an almost instant calm washed over me. Behind the simple altar was the cell where he slept and lived out some of his days. Friars still live here and the gardens that feed them and their guests were ripe with vegetables and flowers. Signs in many languages reminded people of the importance of silence. And so we moved through doorways and over bridges in the silence that shaped, and shapes, the lives of these people given to simplicity and prayer.

Silence teaches us many things. Silence can bring us to the present moment. Silence can allow the sights before our eyes to be magnified, richer, more clear. Silence can allow us to hear and become aware of our own precious heartbeat. It can also allow us to be open to what might come across our path that can be teacher. Silence is the place where our creativity often has its beginnings, the place where an idea or a piece of art is born. In other words, silence is very important, vital.

These ancient followers of Francis and of the Way of Jesus understood deeply the power and the need for silence in our lives. This monastery, now tended by friars and others, continues to be a place where people come for retreat and prayer. It is a place to pull away from the sounds that want to capture our time and our energy. It is a place of exquisite beauty and immense peace.

Walking the damp and green path that led down from the monastery, I crouched in the woods under a tree which seemed ageless. I allowed the silence to envelope me in its wisdom and I rested. Rested from all I might have been worrying about. From all the troubles of the world. From my own self-doubt and short-comings. The silence became my teacher.

Sitting under the tree, I realized that while the silence may have captured my attention, the space where I rested was not completely silent. All around me the birds were singing and calling to one another. Their songs were clear and melodious and spoke of joy. I smiled. Francis would have been pleased, I think, to know that this 21st century woman was being serenaded by the winged ones he so adored, in whose presence he glimpsed the Face of God. Their song…..and his……gave me a peace that was rich and deep and full. And the joy that he knew so well became mine.

My gratitude is overflowing.



Devotion. Devotion is not a word that gets tossed about in my daily round. At least not in the sense that I have experienced it over the last few days. As we have made our way through several small Italian towns, I have been witness to and receiver of people whose lives are full of devotion. Many are devoted to hospitality, welcoming the many pilgrims that arrive in their midst, uninvited yet present. They can be seen preparing food, cleaning up, planting or tidying gardens to create a beauty that has times been overwhelming. There have been those who are devoted to caring for a sacred site, one that they had no part in creating, but are now apprenticed to the work of the welcoming those who have traveled great distances, some out of hope, others in longing, a few out of curiosity, many as a life-long dream. These devoted open doors, say words of welcome,care for ancient relics, held by the holy ones whose name now graces the entrance.
Over and over again I have seen it play out.

And then there are those whose devotion has brought them to these places. For many the stories told are fact. For others they are legend. For all there becomes a truth that goes deeper than reason or any pattern our minds might structure as truth. It is the deep knowing that we each experience when there is a connection that is made between our living and the movement of the Holy. Deep knowing that sometimes cannot be articulated and may even sound absurd to the casual by-stander. This does not negate the deep knowing. In most cases, it simply affirms it.

Yesterday as we walked the streets of Assisi, I saw stream after stream of devotion. Pilgrims from around the world walked in silence and knelt in prayer in places where St. Francis and St. Clare lived simple, devoted lives. Feeding the hungry. Healing the sick. Offering welcome to the stranger. Celebrating the goodness of all Creation. Their lives were real and their work was real. Today hundreds of thousands walk up steep hills and down uneven pathways to be witness to the lives they led and the hope they had for the world. As I walked about in the beauty and the simplicity, the grandeur and elegance, I thought about what they might have made of all this. Would they have been pleased? Or would they have been troubled by the large cathedrals that now carry their names? These simple, even austere faithful, who were more at home in earthy terrain and common company would no doubt be surprised at what has become of their life stories, their living.

These two saints which draw people to the landscape that shaped them spent their lives pointing people toward God. They did this through their actions and only sometimes their words. And yet people, the devoted, are still flocking to this hill town more than nine centuries later. This seems miraculous to me. Standing in lines, sometimes very long lines, to be able to pass by the resting place of both Francis and Clare, I walked in the silence of the devoted from countries all over the world. As we moved slowly surrounded by candlelight and frescoes telling out the scriptures, color dancing all around, I was drawn into the devotion and began to consider my own devotion. To what do I give it? How does that devotion shape my actions and my words?

Saint Francis wrote: “Such love does the sky now pour, that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home.”

May it be so.



Wolves. I am thinking of wolves. Walking in the footsteps of St. Francis in Italy today, we heard the story of Francis making friends with the wolf that plagued the small medieval village of Gubbio. Legend has it that the young monk learned that a wolf was terrorizing this beautiful little town, frightening people and killing other animals. Francis, being a lover of animals and an even greater lover of peace, walked up to the wolf and talked to it, telling it of his care and asking it not to harm and frighten again. It seems that Francis did something right because the wolf became a friend and never frightened the people again. Walking the twisting and turning cobblestone streets of this precious place, I could only imagine what might happen if a wild animal was believed to be lurking someplace around a corner. People would be on constant alert. Anxiety would rule. Irrational thoughts would begin to multiply. Mistrust would be the food of people’s daily living.

In preparation for this journey, I had been reading much about Francis and all the beautiful stories that surround the living of this 13th century person whose work was simplicity, goodness and the care and love of Creation. But it was another story of wolves that also captured my imagination. This Native American story is a cautionary tale of a wise one telling a person in distress that basically as humans we have two wolves that live inside us and they are always in battle with the other. One is the Wolf of Fear. The other is the Wolf of love. When the distressed person asks the wise one how do you know who will win the battle, the sage simply says, “Whichever one you feed.”

For me these two stories of this often misunderstood creature of the forest are good dance partners. Whether the story of Francis and the taming of the wolf is true or not, the message of the story is. As people in the village fed their fear, their lives were always perceived as in peril. No corner was approached without trepidation. No child was believed safe. No aged one could leave their house. The villagers were feeding the wolf of fear and as long as they did, they were already captive to the wolf.

But as Francis came along and chose instead to approach the wolf with love and understanding, things begun to change. The villagers began to loosen their grip on life and opened themselves to the beauty around them. They moved through slender alley ways and greeted their neighbors, soaked in the sunshine and enjoyed their children playing in the square. Instead of fear, the pomegranates and chestnuts so prominent in the area became the food that delighted. Once they stopped feeding the wolf of fear and instead, after Francis’s example, began to feed the wolf of love, everything changed.

A highlight of yesterday’s travels was meeting Father Francesco, an older monk whose work is to welcome pilgrims and worshipers to the tiny Church of the Vittorina. He greeted us with a smile and a presence that made us feel we had known him forever. As he shared the story of the art and all that had happened in this 9th century building, time stood still. The frescoes of stories from the scriptures shared space with the influence of the Romans who once made a home there. The walls revealed partial images of frescoes held beneath newer ones, shaken into the present by the earthquakes that are common in the area. Father Francesco stood calm and joyful among all this. Welcoming strangers. Being open to the beauty around him and holding the stories and history warmly together.

As we left his church and his presence one of our fellow pilgrims asked if he might bless us. And he did. While his words may have been foreign to us, the intention was clear. Father Francesco, like his namesake and the one whose work he continues, offered words and a sweet smile to which we all said “Amen”. He sent us on our way having fed the wolf of love within him and within each of us.


Holy House

Each day is a pilgrimage.We forget this while brushing our teeth or making a peanut butter sandwich. Each day offers gifts unimaginable and challenges worthy of the human heart. We don’t take this into account when we look back over the events of any given 24 hours. We treat the minutes and hours as if they are retrievable which they are not. We gloss over and forget to pay attention to the beauty that walks up to us and looks us in the face begging, begging to be seen.

These last weeks have made me aware of this pilgrimage life as I and others have been preparing to venture off on an intentional walk to places we do not know well, seeking to be transported by place, people and the depth of what it means to be held by committing to be together, by learning from one another and placing our hope in the transformation that comes from being open to the movements of the One who breathes throughout time.

As I write this, I can see outside my window the silhouette of Messaggio Della Santa Casa di Loreto, The shrine of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy. I am in the company of 26 pilgrims who have chosen to pay attention to the gifts of walking the sacred paths walked for centuries. We are trying to offer our own intentions to the pathways some of those known by the Christian a household as saints…..Francis, Clare, Catherine. We are doing this as a way to be more attentive to the way this One has been named and claimed, witnessed and shared throughout time. It is the work of privilege. We know this and we are not taking the journey lightly.

Today’s journey took us to this exquisite cathedral that is said to be home to the house of Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. This small stone home, perhaps once a cave, is believed to have been carried by angels from Nazareth to this small Italian village on the Adriatic Sea. Pilgrims have come here for centuries to pray, to gaze at the Black Madonna that sit at the center of this shrine, and to find a touchstone from the past that brings meaning to the present. While the story itself may sound fantastic to our 21st century ears, I can say that the place itself holds something that continues to draw people of all ages to its walls. It was a sight to behold.A small room held in the center of a large cathedral. Simplicity among baroque fancy, gold-gilt and beautiful paintings. Something womb-like,strong and calm at the center of a large, active community.

This warm afternoon as I watched pilgrims from the other places around the world and those with whom I was traveling move through this sacred sight, I was once again overcome with the power of beauty and the depth of story to captivate the human imagination. In silence people walked among paintings and mosaics, past statues and wood carvings. Some stopped to pray with the religious who make this place home and place of ministry, those wearing the simple brown robes of ones from another time. Still others knelt in prayer or lit a brilliant, blue votive candle to send their prayers dancing in the flicker of flame onto the walls of the sanctuary.

What was the common denominator among us all? Certainly not language. Probably not economic status or politics. It is doubtful whether it was even the supposed beliefs of this faith tradition we claim to share. My sense is that the common factor that had drawn us all to the same place at the same time had much to do with the need to affirm our connection to the More, to once again say I am a part of a story bigger than my individual self, larger than the single details of a day. Like Mary who said “yes” to the movement of the Sacred in her life, we longed to make room for a little of her home in us. Some days it may seem as if angels….messengers of God….make that blessed delivery, full of miracles and acts that are void of reason. And yet, still it happens.
We closed our day with the words of Francis, another one who walked a path looking for the ways the Sacred showed up in the details of his walking around, eating and sleeping life:

Our hands imbibe like roots,
so I place them on what is beautiful in this
And I fold them in prayer, and they
draw from the heavens

And so it is. And so it was.



Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention-the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage
I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here
among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?
My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forget to tell.
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.”
~Marie Howe, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time

Several weeks ago now I wrote in this space about hearing this poet speak on the radio and how I was drawn in by the title of her book, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. After ordering it right away, I waited while it took longer than most books do to arrive in the mail. This made me smile. We are so accustomed these days to having things show up with lightning speed that the fact that this book took several weeks amused me. Perhaps we should have to wait longer for such loveliness…….the appreciation becomes so much more.

Countless times people talk with me about prayer….not knowing how to pray, wondering what prayer really is, what words to use and what words not to use, does it ‘work’, now it does so. Often I am at a loss as to what the ‘right’ answer is to their questions because I not only do not consider myself an expert on prayer but also I always feel as if they are searching for a definitive, correct answer that I believe no one has the power to give. The formulas exist…..wise people have written and described practices of prayer……words have been offered by others to help us along in our prayer life……but basically I am of the ‘there is no right or wrong way to do this’ camp. There is simply your way, my way.

This poem gets at what is most likely the real problem we have with prayer. Time…..too much, too little. Distractions….too many to count and our tendency to follow the next shiny thing that crosses our path, that leads us away from being still enough to connect with that Breath that moves through us, that holds us, that fills us every blessed moment with Life just as the mystics promise. They were, are, the ones who experience time differently, are able to focus on the rise and fall of the Life Force in ways that bring that connection we all long for but miss in our distracted ways of forging ahead in the moments of our days, which, of course, become our lives.

This life, with its days and nights filled to overflowing with the ‘complaints’ we mount up, can be all we have to let sift through our fingers at the end of the day, as we drift off to sleep. Often we have allowed the connection to slip past us, the rising and falling of Breath, going nearly unnoticed, used only as the fuel to propel us forward into the next activity, the next detail to cross off our to-do list. Our days can become ‘a story we forgot to tell.’

Unless…..unless….for one moment, or two, we stop the flitting, the frantic movements that give the illusion of living and allow the One who breathed us into being to be our focus. We make that connection, that deep connection that holds us, that has always held us even when we are fickle and look the other way with our important and busy lives. In and out we breath…remembering who we are, why we are here, all the beautiful and fragile lives with which we travel, the terror that can grip us and the world, and the gentleness and love that is available, always available, with each connection with Breath.