Day 5 – As We are Pushed by the Winds of Life, We Hold on to What is True
Today, we walked to San Damiano in the morning. This is the church where St. Francis first had a powerful experience. By some accounts, he had a vision of Christ on the crucifix speaking to him, by by all accounts, he understood a command from something higher than himself commending Francis to ‘rebuild my church.’ Francis took this literally, and worked to literally rebuild the fallen structure of the building. Eventually, he took that work a step farther and created a revolution within the church by a returning to the literal reading of the gospel.
This is also the place where St. Chiara lived and died. Originally, she lived with the friars in the valley, but eventually, San Damiano became her home in God. She and the members of her order, the poor Clares, cloistered themselves in San Damiano rarely leaving. She lived there for 27 years after the death of Francis, and as she lie dying, even the pope came to her side. She actually demanded that he be there because he had promised that he would approve her rules for her order of sisters (as opposed to the rules being pushed on her by the church), but Clare insisted that he bring the rules as she demanded them to her with his stamp of approval (smart woman). She felt that her rules were much truer to the teachings of Francis and would except nothing less.
This is a beautiful, contemplative place both inside and out. As we arrived, we did a short attunement before entering into the silence of the grounds. Mirka stopped at a beautiful statue of a brother being blown by a strong wind as he holds onto his robes pulling them toward his physical center. Then, she said in a quiet voice, “As we are pushed by the winds of life, we hold on to what it True” Then, she walked on – enough said.
Once in front of the church, we practiced the walking meditation down the walkways for just a few minutes. Each of us had our own little space and kind of did our own version of this practice, which Mario Thanavaro had given us the day before.
Something that really impressed me at San Damiano and other sacred sites here is that the other visitors had a lot of respect for any type of spiritual activity or ritual be preformed by others. Most visitors were not doing their own spiritual rituals on site, but our group was. Our actions were welcomed and respected by everyone as far as I observed. In my normal life, I may have even looked sideways at the group people walking slowly in circles in front of the church, but here, people just dropped their voices as they passed and gave us space.
Once we finished the walking meditation, we went into the main chapel of the church. We recited, shortly as a group, the loving kindness prayer.
May you be safe from inner and outer harm
may you be free from guilt, shame and hatred
may you enjoy physical and mental well being
may you live with the ease of an open heart
may you go beyond your inner darkness and awaken to your radiant true nature as boundless love
Afterwards, we moved quietly through the building to see where Clare and her sisters lived and then took some time to be in the quiet space in the room where she passed on. We were the only ones in the in the room for a few minutes. Mirka very quietly sang Ave Maria before we were joined by other visitors and her voice filled the space beautifully.
She translated the last words of Clare to us as well:
“Go calmly in peace, for you will have a good escort, because He who created you has sent you the Holy Spirit and has always guarded and loved you tenderly as a mother does her child who loves her. O Lord, may You who have created me, be blessed”.
In the afternoon, we gathered again in our beautiful church and Yoga room. It was a lovely, strong practice with one of my favorite, juiciest postures in it. Karen took this photo for us to share the joy. It is a bit fuzzy, but it captured a moment of joy! I think the fuzziness gives the image a nice etherial quality. Thank you Karen for running to get the camera to capture this moment of surrender.
In addition to the amazing practice, one of the Sangha shared her experience and knowledge with us. Lou introduced us to a very important practice in her life. She is on her way to India after Assisi to retreat for a month with the practice of Tong Len. She described the practice to us and then led us through and experience of offering compassion using our breath and attention. She said that this practice can help “the poison (a cause of suffering) become the medicine (a transformation of that suffering into compassion and love).” This is truly at the heart of so much of the talk about compassion this week.