Rest day, May 22, 2013 — Poggio Bustone
The panoramic view from our room as we awoke, window closed
The panoramic view an hour later, window open
As I write this post I’m sitting in the shade next to a statue, overlooking the Church of St James above Poggio. It was here and at the cave above that Francis of Assisi would begin to gather the spiritual strength and vision that would propel him from Spain to Jerusalem and many places between, and that would begin his order of brothers and his message of simplicity and trust.
The day began with a cloudy walk to breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. Poggio Bustone sits midway up a tall peak and seems often to be obscured by the clouds that enfold the mountain.
After breakfast we climbed up to the Convento San Giacomo, where Francis had experienced a genuine sense of forgiveness from God and joy in life. A Methodist would say “his heart was strangely warmed.” It was a key moment in his development and there are small portions of the cloisters that contain parts of the church Francis would have seen and perhaps touched.
As we were walking out of the church we met a Sikh yogi, Capt. Brij Paul Singh of India (formerly a police officer in London at Scotland Yard) and his two Italian guides. Capt. Singh is a gracious man, a disciple of Ravi Shankar, who teaches yoga breathing all around the world.
After our pleasant visit the others in our group headed up to the cave above the church while I waited at the viewpoint below to write, meditate and pray while enjoying the warmth of the sun and the gentle singing of birds.
From left: Andreas, Sebastian, Jacqueline, me
At this point, about halfway through this pilgrimage, I’m starting to feel strong, relaxed and joyful. I’ve started to discover once again this part of me that wants to talk to everyone, to hear their story and to share our joy together. This feature has been noticed by the others in our group. In fact, we’ve assigned ourselves specific roles in our walk.
*Jacqueline — maker of plans and keeper schedules
*Sebastian — cutter of things (mostly fruit and cheese)
*Andreas — singer of songs (often “Liturgical, post-Rock” but sometimes hymns or Hobbit or dwarf songs of Middle Earth) sung in a tenor voice with Swedish/Finnish accent,
*Sandy — Talker of words
I’m sure the words come easily because of the friendliness and openness of these Italians. But I know too that walking in nature for days fills my soul with the fullness that comes only from solitude, and that fullness spills out when I meet others.
So, I’ve learned to speak my version of Italian — it’s Spanish, only louder — and people seem ok in their understanding of it. I’ve become the one who asks directions or prices or times and I feel myself reaching toward a grandmother or a farmer or a tight-jeaned motorcyclist with a smile brimming over with joy.
I know too that being the talker of words comes from my informal role as Dad of this little group. Sebastian is a responsible fireman from Bonn, but he’s still young, just 32. Jacqueline is a youthful 34, and Andreas is just 23. My 55 years gives me senior status and usually the youngsters defer to me in negotiations with the locals.
But I know my heart is full, too, because of the spirit of this place. Francis walked these hills and prayed at these churches and found God among these people and these birds under this beautiful sun. His spirit persists like the echoes of a song, a simple song of joy and love beyond words, ringing quietly in these mountains upward toward heaven, the stars and God. I want to sing his song with my life and live always in that simple, trusting place of warmth and grace and love.
A plaque at the top of yesterday’s climb — the prayer of St Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”
Dear Poggio – I just happened to see this article by you and it reminded me our short meeting in Italy. I am in Chandigarh, India to spend winter with my elderly mum & shall start traveling again in summer. Where are you based? with Prayers for you all – Capt Brij Paul Singh