Italy with my Mom!

I have trouble putting into words the power and meaning of this trip. Italy is a sensual place to visit. Romantic views, delicious drink and food, generous people, ancient architecture, magnificent art, and simple loving devotion to God steal my words and fill my being with awe. On top of all that I was with my mom.  Our shared experience of touring, praying with Francis and Clare, and enjoying the food, people and culture of Italy will be a highlight of our relationship for the rest of our lives.

Each day was its own gift perfectly given. But the highlight for both of us was our time in Assisi. This was the most spiritual place either of us have been. The air is sweeter. The Presence of God nearer. Every road, doorway, chapel, and moment feels like an invitation to contemplate the sweetness of God everywhere. Each day we began and ended with meditation. On our pilgrimages we visited where Francis was born, the church he built, the first monastic residence, the caves he went to be by himself, Clare’s monastery, both their tombs, and the small chapel where Francis prayed and died. At each holy place we sat together in silence guided by our retreat leader. It was a rich spiritual experience.

Italy is also simply delicious in every way. We were fed delicious food by generous people. Meals are served slowly inviting conversation and community. One of our favorites was on a street side in Siena with a view of that fortress city stretched out in front of us, warm sun, and fresh food. Buffula mozerella, ripe red tomatoes, olive tempenade, perfect crunchy bread, pancetta, cantelope…and the freshest olive oil.

My mom made a friend at every turn. She said at one point, “I make sense in Italy, I know why I am the way I am!” As a full blooded Sicilian mom is equally full of the Spirit of many Italians who want to please others, share what they have to give, and live passionately or fully.  I cannot enumerate here all the friends she made!

Italy can seem too good to be true with its beauty and cuisine but it is human as well, particularly in Florence we witnessed the ego drive of the Medici family, the powerful presence of the Roman Empire, dry religiosity, and tourist traps but they did not take away from the pure experience of Italy at its best.

There is so much more to say. So many experiences to unpack. I will be pondering and reflecting in gratitude for a long long time.

I leave you with the blessing of St. Francis:

The Lord Bless you and keep you. The Lord show his face to you and have mercy on you. The Lord turn his countenance to you and give you peace…the Our Lord Bless you. Amen.




Lost the Key

As you can tell by the date of my last blog entry, I have not been inspired to sit down and share about the last three weeks. They have been full of family!

First Mabel and I set out for Colorado to visit my sisters. This trip included a long hike with a boulder field to cross to reach a beautiful mountain lake in the Rocky’s. Dinner and pedicures with my two beautiful sisters. Our long dinner included watermelon mojtos, small plates of farm to table cuisine and meaningful conversation about our lives.  Then we trekked south with sister Sue and company where we  visited the Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. It was there on the side of the mountain at the zoo that we gazed up at the solar eclipse. It was also there that I lost the key, but more on that later.

Returning home it was time to start thinking about back to school. Bethany is beginning 9th grade and Mabel 4th grade. We organized bedrooms, bought shoes, clothes, and school supplies. But school still did not start. This was the longest summer on record. We stole Bethany away from the New Trier Rowing team to finally get away all four of us. Over Labor Day Weekend we headed up to Northern Michigan at Torch Lake. We lost ourselves playing games, driving around on a motor boat, and lounging with our books (and phones) in hand.

Today, three weeks into sabbatical, I feel a shift in my body and chemistry. Both girls are at school. I am alone at home in my sacred study. As I reflect one experience stands out as the symbol of the affect of a sabbatical on my so far, “the lost key”.

While in the Cheyenne Mountain we discovered a beautiful water fall named the Helen Hunt Falls. Mrs. Hunt was a notable person in the area for her writing and advocacy of American Indian plight during the turn of the century. To honor her they named this wilderness area that she frequented. It was along this trail that I lost the key.

The key to the cabin was single and smooth hidden in my pants pocket. I could feel the jagged edges twirling it between my fingers as I kept my hand warm. I was stepping up up up along the wall of rock. Then my toe snagged, I tripped, and fell forward. Instantly I pulled my hands out of my pockets to catch my self on the cold hard stone. At the same moment I heard the key go “ting, ting. ting” as it flew out of my pocket and from my fingers.

The key had gone over the waterfall. The only key to the cabin.

The story has a happy ending. A wonderfully helpful cabin owner. A good long ridicule from the children who decided in the end that a ground squirrel had run off with the key and would be taking up residence soon. And a memorable laugh with my sister who will never let me forget it.

I lost the key. Without warning it slipped out, flew off the side of a cliff, and left me wondering.

Three weeks in and I am aware of how the nature of life and its ongoing reality steals the key to life. Without knowing it in the constant planning, moving forward, and daily necessities the key can vanish from our grasp.

Up to now my dreams have been full of ministry. The staff, parishioners, memories and planning are still large within my conscious and unconscious life. In my life, there is always someone to visit, something to write, a conversation to have, an idea to follow up on, an email to get out, or a worship service to plan and lead. Relentless.

Today I sense a shift. As I look toward Italy next week with my mom, I will be free to sense time shift within me. Unplug from the responsibilities and concerns in Northfield. And be fully present.

The spiritual teachers remind us that Presence is what shifts our sense of time and we can relax into the timeless nature of God.

Sabbath is about ceasing at its literal meaning. Ceasing so that something new can be experienced of the divine life we live.

Ciao Bella

On the journey