This little online journal will, hopefully, be a collection of experiences and reflections from participants in the week in Assisi June 19 – 26. Here are just a few thoughts bubbling up from me as I slowly put together my pile of stuff to carry over to Assisi.
Returning to Assisi is like a pilgrimage. I am still digesting the connections I made within myself and with the spiritual community (or Sangha) from the last two trips I made in 2010 and 2012. And, when I think of what will come during the next visit, my mind stays empty, open to whatever life brings.
The returning is very much in the spirit of the teachings of St. Francis. He and his brethren would leave Assisi and wander, sharing the ‘good news’ about their faith. This was medieval Italy, so they didn’t just road trip or hop on a train. Clothed in only a tunic in winter, they walked, data after day, seeking shelter as it came.
As Padre Gianmarie Poloidoro explains in his book Francis of Assisi, “Winter wasn’t the best time to leave on a preaching excursion; none the less, in winter, people were more free and better disposed to listen, especially those in the villages and castles where farming and simple handcrafts – now restricted by the bad weather and lack of light – constituted the major part of the people’s work. Going forth two by two, as the Lord commanded in the Gospel, the eight divided their world into four parts, in the sign of the cross: Two went north. Two went south. Two went east. Two went west……’
They were often abused and suffered great humiliation at their odd choice of living in poverty, but they went out into the world, none the less. And with a positive spirit and sense of celebration, they went to speak of their spiritual path through devotion to teachings of the Gospel. One can imagine the reception they received when two unknown beggars, dressed in rags without any possessions, arrived in town trying to change the religious beliefs of everyone (what would have happened to them in this day and age?). Eventually, they would all gather again in Assisi to share their experiences.
Padre Gianmarie explains: “The return, as always, was a coming back to a grand celebration. At last they gathered back together to recount things with the Lord had done through them in the villages far away. The friars met and talked about the plan of God which was unfolding day after day; they prayed together, and they constituted their own mode of living together and of coping with suffering and of interpreting the reality around them, thus creating a ‘chapter.’ This ‘chapter,’ made up of real events and happening in real time, actually embodies the heart of their lived experience.”
“Embodying the heart of our lived experience” is a fantastic way to describe gathering in Assisi with a wonderful group of people to dive into traditional teachings about the heart and mind!!
I don’t know if there is something in ‘the air’ there or the heart just opens knowing that there is a returning to a spiritual meeting, but there is a lightness in my heart when I am there. This year, that lightness is already beginning before I arrive. I think it is because I am connecting with the Sangha (thanks to modern technology) on a daily basis.
And like the Franciscans, they join us from four paths:
- From the North – There are friends from Assisi who were there on the first retreat 20 years ago, and this is their first time returning.
- From the South – There are friend who have been to Assisi years ago but will not be with us this year.
- From the East – There are friends who have never been to Assisi who will be there this year (some who have never done Yoga before).
- From the West – There are even friends who are just dreaming of going some day.
They are all part of the Sangha, in my mind, all part of the story of deep self-reflection and connection to the story of the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare (I will share more of her story later; her’s is not a story of wandering but of deep, unmoving dedication).
I tend to be a person who likes to have a feeling of order and planning, but in Assisi, I am open to the rhythms of the Universe in a way that I can’t seem to find often in daily life. It is as if I notice the subtle messages in the mundane when my heart opens like that. I even have ‘visions’ in Assisi; I mean, seriously, WHO has ‘visions’ in real life? Mirka is the inspiration and guide in moving with life in this way….. I think need more Mirka in my everyday life!
In a few days, two other guests from the retreat, Jentry & Lynne, will be stuck in a car with me for about 12 hours as we drive down from southern Germany (where two of us live), and the other 20 people on the retreat will be either crossing the ocean or enjoying Rome with some tremendous jet lag. Everyone who is attending this year has made a tremendous commitment to be there, and that, in itself, is a powerful energy coming to the gathering. There are others sending love and looking forward to reading and hearing about the next ‘chapter’ in their beloved Assisi.