Living Well

 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?


Living Well

View from the Balcony

imagesIn the leadership development work I do with Margaret Benefiel and Executive Soul, we often talk about stepping back from challenging situations and imagining what things would look like from the balcony (thanks to the work of Ron Heifetz, et al). It is amazing how that change of view . . . that change of perspective . . . that stepping away . . . can offer new ideas, new insights, new energy and creativity.

While Heifetz talks about this practice in the context of organizational settings, I believe it is a useful and powerful tool as a spiritual practice. What happens if I step back from a challenging situation in a personal relationship? What can I see, and know, and understand, if I move away from the particularities of my own experience – hurt, anger, frustration, sadness – and see things through a wider lens – the experience of others in the situation, the dynamics of the situation and its meaning for each of the players?

In order to do this – to remember to do it, to take the time to do it, to be open to the possibility of surprise – I believe it is something I must practice. In the heat of a difficult situation, it is much more difficult to remember to stop and stand back if I haven’t been practicing it all along, and reaping the benefits. If I practice this in smaller situations, it is easier and more possible to have the courage and trust to practice it in larger, more potent situations.

Thinking about this has drawn me to ponder – how does God see things? What is God aware of as God’s vision is from the widest, most inclusive perspective? If this becomes part of my regular prayer, will this help me to develop the practice of standing on the balcony?

I find I am reminded of some words from St Francis of Assisi, that – for me – offer a vision of God’s perspective. He wrote:

I think God might be a little prejudiced.

For once He asked me to join Him on a walk

through this world,


and we gazed into every heart on this earth,

and I noticed He lingered a bit longer

before any face that was



and before any eyes that were



And sometimes when we passed

a soul in worship


God too would kneel



I have come to learn: God

adores His