Thursday, July 2, 2009

And So It Was God's Time

In many ways, living with God is like living with a toddler - you never know what God will do or say or or if you will be prepared to deal with the next unpredictable move.

It was after dinner on our first evening in Assisi before we ventured out by foot into the piazza. The night was cool and clear. As we wound our way among the eight hundred year old buildings, up the stone steps into the town center only yards away from Francis' family home, I was awe struck. At that moment, I was rendered speechless. I stood and stared for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few seconds. We walked the cobblestone paths as did Francis and I was taken back in time only to be jolted back to 2009 by the smell of cappuccino wafting from the bakeries whose windows were piled high with confections.

That night, as I took my first steps through Assisi, I was teetering between a past, the present, and a future. I spent the whole evening on one hand not knowing where I was and on the other feeling like I was at home. Weber must have sensed my weird state of being because that night before we went to bed he took me in his arms and asked, "Now that you are here, are you sure that you don't want to be a nun?" I managed to say, "I don't know." We went to bed with those being the last words we shared that night.

The next morning we got up and had what passed for breakfast in the convent - wafers, which are best described as the Italian version of graham crackers, and cappuccino. We then walked to the Basilica of St. Francis. The Basilica was breath taking on many levels. I will share more about that in a later post.

The six of us travelling together then went to the Portinucula and afterwards shared a fantastic Italian lunch. Because Weber and I arrived a day later than the rest of the group, we missed seeing Santa Chiara, the Church of St. Clare, with them on the previous day. They suggested that we do that during our free time that afternoon.

Santa Chiara is just off the piazza. In a small side chapel, it houses the "original" San Damiano cross, the cross that spoke to the young Francis and told him to "go and rebuild my church." This cross had previously hung in the San Damiano friary. After Francis' death, St. Clare and the sisters moved it to Santa Chiara, where it hangs today.

We walked into this chapel joining twenty to thirty tourists and several nuns who were praying the rosary. We sat down in an empty pew. I looked up at the San Damiano cross and again was filled with awe. I was looking at the very cross that had transformed the young Francis from a partying soldier to a fool for God. God, through his very cross, spoke to Francis, thus changing his life and the lives of many others forever. Realizing this, I knew what I had to do.

With tears streaming down my face, I looked up at this beautifully painted piece of wood and said, "OK. You spoke to Francis and told him what to do. I need you to do that for me. I need to know if you are truly calling me to test my vocation as a nun in the first order?" I'm not sure how long I sat there with tears rolling down my face with no words being spoken - not by me, or Weber, or the cross. I disappeared into the blur of my thoughts and my tear-filled eyes.

Some time later I looked up (I have no idea how long it was) to see a Franciscan friar walking toward us. He looked at Weber and said, 'Deutsche?". To which Weber responded, "No, English." The friar smiled and started to walk on. He abruptly stopped, came back to our pew and first blessed Weber by making the sign of the cross on his forehead and then he did the same to me. He then pulled from somewhere (I guess habits have pockets) a small piece of paper wrapped in cellophane and handed it to Weber saying that it was a gift for us. The friar then turned and left the chapel as gracefully as he had come in As we watched him leave, we realized that with this friar's arrival, the chapel had completely emptied The thirty or so people that were there when we walked in had all left. For that brief moment, it was just me, Weber, the friar, and God in that chapel.

We sat together in silence for a few more minutes before leaving the chapel as Vespers was about to begin. Once outside, Weber turned to me and asked, "What just happened in there? Why were you crying?" I told him of the question that I had posed to God via the cross. We then looked at what we had been given by the friar.

In the cellophane was a small rose colored card of handmade paper. Attached to the front is a dried flower and an antique colored gold heart charm. Inside, on cream colored paper, is a poem entitled, "Per La Via del Cuore", For The Way of the Heart.

We spent several evenings working to translate the rest of the poem. Our Italian vocabulary was OK, but lacking any real knowledge of Italian grammar made this task difficult. Though there is more to it than this, essentially the message we were given is that where your heart is, there too you will find God. I spoke to God through the San Damiano cross and in His time, he spoke to me through the friar. My question was answered.

First and foremost, my heart belongs to God; however, God brought Weber and me together and thus what we share is of God and for God - though not conducive to convent living!

These moments in Santa Chiara forever changed me, my relationship with Weber, and my faith in God.

"Santa Chiara"