[pictures of the Italian countryside, while traveling from Rome to Assisi]
yesterday, i woke up in Rome and it was raining.
far from being put out, i was delighted. naturally, the locals and many tourists ran for cover, or fought to purchase ponchos or umbrella’s from street vendors. i smiled and enjoyed it.
after all, it felt like home.
Italy is full of castles, basilicas, and ruins. its almost ridiculous. every few miles, or blocks, or steps, a new historical and gorgeous and fascinating feature can be seen. i traveled through the city and out into the countryside.
yesterday, the clouds gave the landscape a serious, almost fearful countenance, and i watched the rainwater sluice in small rivers along the windows as i traveled the 2.5 hours from Rome to Assisi.
have you ever heard of Assisi?
my guess is, you’ve heard of St Francis of Assisi, who is quite a famous figure in church history. my friend Julie calls him “the patron saint of hippies,” because he loved animals and the environment. perhaps this explains why i like him so so much.
St Francis lived in the late 1100’s-early 1200’s, and he was quite an usual man. never officially ordained into the priesthood, he founded quite a few orders himself and had pretty serious views on how life ought to be lived. he grew up rich, and indulged himself in that lifestyle to fullest. until he had a significant spiritual epiphany in which he heard the Lord telling him to rebuild his church. he then responded by choosing a life of poverty, eschewing the wealth of his family. he did this in a dramatic fashion.
our Assisi tour guide, Eduardo, was a small man in a long grey trenchcoat. he spoke smoothly and competently about St. Francis, explaining that he told his parents that he wanted to join the order, and his dad freaked out and chained him in the basement. later, his mom took pity on him and let him out. St. Francis responded by taking off his clothes and handing them to his parents [such an unusual method of disagreeing with your parents], and told them that he was done with their lifestyle and wanted to devote his life to God.
[sculpture depicting St. Francis’ parents]
[St. Francis’ Basilica, perched atop the hill in the city]
he went on to found the Franciscan order and preached of Christ, choosing to live an extraordinarily simplified lifestyle.
i visited the church of St. Clare, which was a women’s order, and the building was a small, compact space with maze-like staircases and beautiful artwork.
St. Francis’ Basilica, on the other hand, was ornate, spacious, and glorious. none of the churches in Assisi allowed photography within, so my imagination holds the images only.
the city was spectacular, built on a hill above the world. every street was leading upward or downward, ultimately coming to finish at the thick city wall surrounding it. buildings nestled close together along narrow streets, and skilled Italian drivers took no pause navigating them.
i reflected on several things while staying in Assisi, the most pressing being this: if i were to simplify my life, get rid of things within it that are holding me back, and focus those efforts on following Jesus, how would such an act radically change not just my life, but the lives of people around me?
St. Francis made a difference. whether or not you can get down with his methodology [eschewing comforts, living meagerly, focusing on prayer and on bettering the world around him], there is no doubt that his radical ideas spurned change.
late last night, while roaming the streets in search of gelato, a man in linen priest garb, without shoes, walked by. he lives in Assisi and has dedicated his life to living in St. Francis’ footsteps. the town has offered him a single room with a cot, but he has declined and chooses to sleep next to the city gate. if you ask him, he will pray with you for whatever you ask. he has forsaken modern comforts to pursue holiness in simplicity.
extreme, right? in Assisi, there is a population of approximately 1,000 people, and about 500+ of those are in the order. so clearly, this is a town that wants to dedicate itself to pursuing piety.
regardless of what you believe, it is hard not to respect the efforts of a man who truly believed in simplicity and harmony, as well as the radical life change that occurred when encountering the gospel.
a few side notes, and then i’m done for now.
we stopped for lunch at a hostel halfway up the hill to Assisi, run by friends of a group member. these kind, charming people served us homemade lasagna and tiramisu, and i instantly loved them.
this is our bus driver, Emilio. no, i’m not kidding.
thank you for all of your kind words and prayers. i’ll be home soon!