Saturday, November 12, 2011

A thin place named Assisi

The city of Assisi
Breakfast in Rome comprised café-Americano, yoghurt, granola, bread, local cheeses, salami and cappuccino. Yes, it’s going to be a cappuccino kind of a week.
It has been another bright, clear day full with spectacular views. We arrived at Assisi by way of Orte, enjoyed a late lunch, and then walked through the Basilica and down to the tomb of St Francis.

SPIRITUAL MOMENT: Last week my brother (Geoff) and I spent some time talking about “Thin Places.” It’s the idea, drawn from Celtic mythology, that the physical and the spiritual realms are separated by a membrane, and that – at certain times or places – the membrane is stretched so thin that communication (or even passage) between the two is more possible.

It’s as if time and eternity… heaven and earth… the sacred and the mundane… are not so much separate as they are out of synch with one another, a condition that requires but the slightest of shifts to remedy. It’s a point of view that resonates both with my reason and my experience.

We talked about thin places in our own spiritual histories, and it was a great conversation. “I understand that Assisi is a thin place for many people,” I said. “That’s right,” Geoff concurred, “I’d very much love a visit some time, but I just don’t see that happening.”

St. Francis
LIGHT A CANDLE: A few days ago Geoff called, and he asked me to light a candle at Assisi and to pray for him. Right now he’s engaged in a serious struggle with liver cancer - and of course we’re praying anyway. But some extra time dedicated to talking with God at one of the world’s foremost thin places was a great idea. Then, the day before I left the States, my friend Al from California told me about two spots on his liver and I promised to light a candle for him too.

So I made a donation, and I picked out two candles, and I prayed. I found a quiet location in one of the old wooden pews in the very place where Francis of Assisi himself had enjoyed the same kind of chats with the very same God, and I talked with God for a few minutes about Geoff, and about Al. I even tipped forward – ever so gently – on to my banged up knees for a moment or two. And God and I discussed the need that Geoff and Al both have for healing.

It was a legitimate spiritual connection, and I was acutely aware of the presence of God. Not just God, but God listening. And then the moment passed.

Outdoor mass at Assisi
MASS: Assisi is a wonderful walking town. We put in several miles and then swung by the Church of St. Francis again on the way back to the hotel. There in the outer courtyard several hundred people had gathered for mass. We paused to watch for a few minutes, just peripheral participants in the simple celebration of God.

It felt fitting – as if all those people were co-conspirators in the prayers I had offered earlier in the afternoon.

The folk in the square were pilgrims to this place (Assisi is second only to St. Peter’s in Rome in popularity for Catholics). I guess I was a pilgrim too today, even if I am still only a pilgrim-in-progress.

Regardless, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God heard my prayers. And, for today, that was enough - DEREK

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