The events of the last weeks have had me reaching out for what is grounding, what has withstood the tests that have inevitably challenged humanity throughout time. Questions like ‘what really sustains?’ and ‘ what brings courage and wisdom?’ have floated in between the anguish of troubling newsfeed that can be our constant companion if we allow it. Trying to keep a balance between being responsible and informed and staying calm and sane can be a difficult.
Recently I have returned to a devotional book given to me as a birthday gift from a friend. It is simply titled Celtic Daily Prayer and is a rich compilation of scripture and reflection from throughout the swath of writings of those who have been shaped by the faith of those who have made a home in or near the British Isles. Each month in the book is themed and July is devoted to pilgrimage…pilgrimage to places held holy by those who lived and traveled there. In yesterday’s reading I found words that soothed my soul.
July 14 was given over to the pilgrimage site of Assisi, Italy. “In Assisi the past is not history, but the life of Francis is now, just as Christ is now.” writes Norma Wise. These words had me swirling back in memory to my travels two years ago and the experience of beauty and strength that permeated the streets of Assisi. While all the modern amenities we have come to hold so precious were present in this ancient city there was also the sense that time was fluid and that the living presence of the humble teacher we have come to call St. Francis might appear around the next corner. His gifts of simplicity and wonder at the fullness of Creation seemed to shimmer in the very air.
Further in the devotional reading were these words: “There have been thousands of footsteps around Assisi, but through them all the footsteps of Francis seem freshly there, unaltered,calling out for us to walk in them,and learn.” writes Brenda Grace. The days we walked this tiny Umbrian town, the place was filled with pilgrims night and day. Languages floated by in conversation, words unfamiliar, unknown. Faces shown forth with characteristics of those from a variety of countries and national origins. Our own footsteps made one more groove in the stones there and left their image in the dusty paths. It was easy to image our footsteps mixed with those of Francis and his followers…calling out to us to learn.
Learn? Learn, what? Certainly, the value to the Holy of each created being from tiny insect to upright human. Perhaps, the joy of the simple things of the every day…the sunrise and sunset, the trees swaying in breeze, the rain falling, the light twinkling on water, the smell of a freshly bloomed flower. All gifts of Creator…all which we had no hand in bringing to being. Our only work is to receive them in our presence, exclaim our wonder and enjoy. Our deep connection to every part of the world…the poor, the lonely, those on the margins, those we name other or least…all these are kin. These could be just a few of the lessons Francis might teach us for our day and time.
This mental pilgrimage, these memories helped me find the grounding I needed to walk out into the day and I was grateful. The words and the challenge to walk in the footsteps of Francis once again helped center me for the work of the day. I thought of how in a sense I had brought his footsteps with me across an ocean and into my own land. This thought helped me to walk more gently with yesterday’s experiences…to hold someone’s gaze more fully…to breathe more deeply of the beauty that still exists around me…to offer blessing to the strangers who pass our way…to make my prayer constant, unceasing. These can be things we abandon when life gets tough.
Today, I am sure, pilgrims from all walks of life are showing up in a little town in Italy, a place where only their clothing and the cars rushing by gives indication of the year. But history is not past there. It is now…just as Francis is now…just as Christ is now. This brings me comfort and peace for the journey of my own present. What is bringing you comfort and peace these days?