Stripping and Adorning
I have been on a pilgrimage tour in Assisi, Italy for the last week. We have been ‘walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare.’ Francis and Clare, born in the late 12th Century, each renounced their families and lives of privilege in order to follow a deep and profound call from within to follow Jesus in a life of poverty and prayer. The sites we have seen have all been, in some way, an expression of devotion to and praise for the lives of Francis and Clare, by those who have come after them
Each day of our tour, the pilgrimage guides have provided a theme, inviting us to reflect on what we see and experience through the lens of the theme. We have seen churches, basilicas, and cathedrals; and each of them, in their own particular ways, have been adorned with paintings, sculptures, frescoes, stained glass, altars – breathtaking, inspiring, overwhelming, inviting. The history and meaning of these places is palpable and powerful.
But today, we walked to the Hermitage of the Carceri; a place where Francis and his brothers in community went to rest and pray away from the activity and demands of their life and ministry in Assisi. Several of us walked on a trail through the woods, climbing higher and higher until we reached the remote place where these men lived in caves, and devoted themselves to prayer and silence.
Though a larger structure has been built in the years since Francis and his brothers retreated there, it is still a place of simplicity and natural beauty. As I walked along the trails leading from the chapel to the caves, I felt as though I was in a primal forest. Beautiful, unspoiled, holy. Everywhere I turned, there was a reminder of God – a simple altar, a gentle bend in the trail, time-worn stones, moss-covered tree trunks. I found that the theme of stripping and adorning kept coming to me.
I began to think about all the ways in which we can get so easily and stubbornly attached to our sacred spaces of place and time – stained glass, original pews, altar cloths, time of worship, structure of liturgy. We can so easily slip into worshiping these sacred – to us – things, and lose sight of worshiping God. We can so easily become devoted to the beauty and history and importance of these things and what they have meant to us as worshiping community, and forget that God is calling us through and beyond these things to a life marked by love and Presence to God in all things and at all times.
So I am wondering what it is I need to strip away. What is distracting me from God? From God in one another? What do I need to let go of in order to receive . . . God?