Pilgrimage, it's my most favorite way to travel. Pilgrimage begins the moment one says "Yes" to a particular journey, whether it's a trip to a foreign land, or a "new" twist in our own life journey. I feel as if I've been on a "spiritual pilgrimage" for 27 years now. It started when I said "Yes" to what I felt was a call to follow Jesus as hard as I could. It continues to amaze me how differently that "journey" has turned out than I expected, but that's another blog post - and it will probably not be written.
Meanwhile, back to physical pilgrimages to foreign lands - I made my first pilgrimage to Ireland in 2014. My mother died in the second half of 2013, and I felt as if it wasn't just the end of a chapter in my life, but that I was beginning a whole new book. Going on pilgrimage seemed the way for that book to begin. One of the gifts of that first pilgrimage was learning the value of "sauntering" (to walk with a liesurely gait) and the value of "sabbath" (a period of rest). Christine Valters Painter of Abbey of the Arts led that pilgrimage. She's a "monk in the world", and I know that there's a part of me that is the same. Christine knows how to "saunter", and I'm learning the importance of sauntering on ANY journey (my life's journey or a walk in the woods). And a BIG part of any journey is learning the value of "sabbath" (a period of rest).
On my second pilgrimage to Shantivanam in India in 2016, we had an 8-day silent retreat. We didn't leave the ashram to go sight seeing, and we didn't speak to one another. It was an experience that I'll always treasure.
Meanwhile, here we were in Italy, busy, busy, BUSY - going someplace new every day, playing hard, writing hard, and laughing hard. But at home, some things were happening that were hurting my soul. And physically, I hadn't been "sauntering". My feet and legs had been swollen since the day I arrived in Italy. My legs ached, a part of my heart ached, and I was really, really tired, mentally, physically, and emotionally, I needed a day to rest. I yearned for "sabbath".
So our La Romita days came just in time. On Thursday June 29 and Saturday July 1, we rested. We stayed at "home". We grounded ourselves in the simple activities of hand-washing our clothes, taking lots of naps, and being still. I painted a little bit on Thursday, then took a little time on Saturday morning to "saunter" through the grounds of La Romita, just savoring the air, the ground, the fragrance, and the beauty of this place. It had been pretty warm (not for someone like me from the Gulf Coast of Texas, but for the rest of my group, it was really hot. They were Canadians!), but the weather was shifting. It was cloudy on Thursday and beginning to cool off. Rain had been forecasted, and I hoped for some, for the sake of the olive trees.
My days were simple enough - my simple pleasure while I was there was opening and closing these windows. They stayed open most nights, and we closed them for the daytime, to keep the rooms cooler. There was no AC there, but the rooms were never hot to me. The stone walls kept their cool, and I bet they keep their warmth in winter.
The view out my window.
The clouds part just enough for the sun to peep through.
After breakfast on Thurday morning, I washed my clothes, then took my paints and sketch pad outside and painted for a while.
I read a little from some of Richard's poetry books.
And I envied cook's small Fiat.
Isn't this the cutest thing!
While I was in Italy, a dear friend of mine who I worked with a number of years ago lost her only daughter. It had really rattled me to read about it on Facebook. Her daughter was only 33 and had left a 4-year-old little girl. I was reading daily the comments on Michelle's Facebook page, and a part of me was seriously grieving. Richard suggeted I write a poem, so I did. My heart goes out to Kim, her mother and my friend, and to Lorelei, her little girl. I wrote the poem over the course of a couple of days. Kim wrote about Michelle's death shortly after we got back from Assisi. Richard told me that Assisi had suffered an earthquake - this felt like that to me.
I was in Assisi
When I Read the News on Facebook
The ground heaved,
Plaster ceilings crashed
snuffed out life and memory.
Outer parapets of the Great Basilica crumbled.
Gardens of beauty painted on
inner sanctuary walls
Her fall yesterday
changed everything today.
A mother yesterday,
not a mother
they bury her mother.
Writing the poem helped me grieve the loss - and in it's own way, enabled me to go ahead and enjoy my time on my trip. Richard had given us a theme for our journey: Job One – To Fall in Love with the Miracle Ache of the World. Right here, while I was in the glorious place where time had stopped, and my heart was delighting, a friend was across the ocean, grieving such loss. Talk about "ache". How do those two things work together, except that's what life is: gain and loss, tears of laughter mixed with tears of joy, the ache of love and happiness in the same space as the ache of sorrow and death. It is the tension of living life here on earth.
Richard had given us an assignment earlier in the week that we were to finish up and share on Thursday - to write a poem that told us where our "story" began. His teacher, Patrick Lane, had said, "Each one of us has one or many fundamental stories who significance both denies and defines us." So where had my story begun?
sprung from her father’s crown,
no mother required -
A small, dusty town in West Texas
Calvary Baptist Church.
She watched her little brother.
He faced the congregation,
his small New Testament
in his tiny hand.
He raised his two-year old voice.
He preached his sermon.
Greeted by applause,
laughter and cheers
the old men exhorted,
“You’ll grow up to be
just like your daddy someday,
a fine preacher man,
telling Good News!”
on her own
5-years old legs,
turned to that same
spread her arms out wide,
raised her voice to proclaim her truth.
Later that evening, Richard shared his poetry with both painters and poets. A "funny" (?) little thing - one of the painters suggeted that Richard didn't write "real poetry" because it didn't rhyme...Ok... I'll just leave that comment right there. (sigh....)
Friday was the busiest day we had, so we were ready for another break by Saturday. Most of us were realizing how little time we had left to spend together, and poetry was slowing us down and turning us inward.
Saturday morning, another beautiful morning in Italy!
The rain is over. The clouds are moving out, and
the air is clean and cool.
After breakfast on Saturday moring, while I was sitting outside on the patio, Sally meandered up to me.
She had been shy, but was just beginning to come around and let us pet her. This morning, she jumped up into my lap for some loving and stayed and stayed and stayed.
Richard had given us a writing assignment based on Frank O’Hara’s famous line “Someday I’ll love Frank O’Hara”...write a poem about yourself that is also about your place in the world. Let its title be, “Someday I’ll Love (Insert Your Full Name).” This is the only rule to follow for this prompt. Be bold. Think big. Say something you’ve been afraid to say about yourself and your identity.
Earlier in the week, he had also given us a prompt to write an ekphrastic poem based on a work of art. I had found my "work of art" in Todi, a piece of sculpture in a shop window:
After my little experience with Sally, I knew where I wanted to go with my ekphrastic poem and my Frank O'Hara poem--I would combine them.Pritti
A few days ago, in Todi, Umbria,
I saw a sculpture by Paola Epifani
entitled Pritti (Hindi for “love”):
one’s arms and legs encircled the other.
I may have heard them whisper,
“Love is given away
from the front of your rib cage,
the front of your heart.
Love is received through the back.
Let me love you.”
This morning, she sauntered over to my ankles,
sniffed and leaned in.
I reached to pet her, but she wasn’t yet ready.
I withdrew my hand and waited.
Finally, she rose
placed her paws on my knees
and leaned in for the scratch.
Do you know that place?
At the top of the head
right behind the ears?
I knew exactly where to scratch her itch.
Someday I’ll love Sheila* as much as I love that cat.
(from Frank O’Hara)
After sitting with Sally, I decided to grab my walking sticks and "saunter" around the grounds of La Romita.
The owner's house
The trail behind the owner's house.
The olive trees - visions of Gethsemane
The olive groves
Another view of Terni from the other side of the hilltop.
I loved exploring the grounds of La Romita. Pure joy. Simple pleasure.
Just an aside: Richard had "promised" me that our time in Italy wouldn't be as intense as our time at Surfside? Yeah. Right. But writing poetry most of the time takes you places inside that you hadn't planned on going, places you never intended to go. So...there it is.