Monday, June 8, 2015


I live now not with my own life, but with the life of Christ who lives in me. Galatians 2:20

Prayer is the act by which we divest ourselves of all false longings and become free to belong to God and God alone.  This explains why, although we often feel a real desire to pray, we experience at the same time a strong resistance. We want to move closer to God, the source and goal of our existence, but at the same time we realize that the closer we come to God the stronger will be God's demand to let go of the many "safe" structures we have built around ourselves. Prayer is such a radical act because it requires us to criticize our whole way of being in the world, so lay down our old selves and accept our new self, which is Christ.

God is timeless, immortal, eternal, and prayer lifts us up into this divine life. Henri Nouwen, "Letting Go Of All Things"

On the train to Genova, Tracy is sitting across from me, memorizing Hail Mary. In order to stay in monasteries and convents across Italy and France for free we asked the local parish priest to write us a letter of recommendation. He agreed, if we would say a Hail Mary once a day. And I had no problem agreeing. Mary, full of grace, may that same Jesus be carried in me. May the angels say, "The Lord is with you."

And let the divesting begin. Already we are leaving a trail of bike helmets and glasses and bike locks and keys across Italy, and a medium-sized box is being shipped to Portugal full of clear unnecessities. So many structures to lay down.

And step into radical. Crazy. We hear it many times a day, always parsed with great kindness and mercy, but truly spoken, with a gentle head shaking. Maybe that's why we start in Genova, where Christopher Colombus headed out for the New World.

And whatever that verse is about Open up your mouth wide and I will fill it is so much true. My overflowing tummy, heart and soul can certainly not hold it all, the past few days of grace.

Being picked up by Marco in Bologna and hauled up to the tiled rooftop of the Franciscan monastery where he has been living alone in quiet contemplation for six months in a town called "horse bath" because this is where Napoleon's troops stabled their mounts. And we watched the fiery red sun set as we sipped red wine and nibbled pastries.

Then dinner with Chiara, and gelato in the Plaza and clambering up the ancient fort steps to watch the stars above and the children jumping off the stairs below. Up early for mass and the breaking of bread, and a croissant from one small shop and an expresso from another in order to support two local businesses. Off to the high school for a quick meeting with some students writing a cross-curricular final thesis on the border/immigration issues with the U.S. and Mexico from political, economic, Spanish and psychological perspectives. Back for the boys and more sweet breads and more cappuccinos, a quick visit to a couple of social outreaches for unemployed refugees and women from difficult situations, then the grandparents' farm and fresh fruit and homemade bread and homemade jam and homemade eggs and homemade wine, then, pop, pop back into the truck to a massive lunch with Marco's mentors: ravioli, pork chops, salad, beans, bread, and of course, gelato. Then while Brandon and Julian put together a couple of boxed bikes, Marco and I rode into Bologna to pick up Matteo arriving from Sweden, Tracy arriving from Arizona and a wayward bike arriving from London, and I heard a story of life decisions. How do we discern the voice of God in all the clutter of desire, hopes, and projects? After yet another cappuccino from Tracy's enthusiastic travel companion, we rushed back home for a very late but very yummy risotto dinner. And a sweet time of prayer with Chiara. She appreciates my bambini approach to Abba Father, which is certainly shaped by my bambini approach to Italian. Day One.  We had considered an invitation to drive to Venice and the Italian alps after the plane/train/bike pick-up where Julie and Brian were celebrating their last day of honeymoon, but even I mustered together some good sense in the muddle of jet lag, and declined.

Day Two began with Tracy buying a Cannondale sr500 silk road aluminum from a guy who worked at a bike shop and we did a practice ride to Ravenna, the seaside capital of the fourth century Byzantine Empire. Or something like that. Matteo drove alongside of us, proffering cheery directions, handfuls of freshly plucked right-off-the-tree cherries and apricots, refreshing water bottle squirts, and photographing the marvel of us actually getting on bicycles. It is clear that I will be way behind the others on my very sturdy hybrid bike, peddling madly behind their very swift road bikes, but such is the humbleness of life. We were heartened by 46 km in less than two hours. We just have to do that forty-three more times. With fully loaded bicycles. While the boys paddled on the beach Matteo drove us girls back, sharing yet more apricots and good conversation, to a wedding where their social service community was performing, Marco singing, Matteo on his violin, and afterwards we wandered out to the slippery soap and water slide soccer tournament, the quasi-evangelistic crusade inviting all of the town's young people from every possible walk of life to a two-week competition at the church, then home again, home again, jiggedy jig to begin making twenty-five pizzas in the outdoor wood stove for a group of German entrepreneurs who met Marco in China and who were just finishing up with the Milan World Expo. Did I say delightful Germans? And a few musicians and pizza after pizza after pizza and twinkly lights and music and German beer and yet more pizza. Dishes and bed. Day Two.

Day Three began late. Not sure that this is what Jehovah God intended with a Sabbath rest, but we did not drag ourselves out of bed until ten, and then only to prepare for the arrival of the Campostrini family from Venice. With amazing cheeses and meats and homemade prosecco. And Giovanni is doing well, studying International Relations in nearby Turin, and Monica is as sweet and wise as ever, and Stefano was a veritable fountain of sobering wisdom, as he is actually someone who has ridden his bike to Santiago from this region. Except that he is a knowledgeable and skilled cyclist, and, well, we are not. So went spent the afternoon looking at maps and where to chop and hop onto trains and how do they all work anyways, the local trains, the express trains and the trains in between and the bikes and tickets and, oh dear.

Once they left in a flurry of photographs under the jasmine arch, Matteo made the final rounds with us, to the mind boggling large decathlon sporting goods store to buy a rack and helmet for Tracy, the bank for Euros, the train station for tickets, yet one more delicious dinner by Chiara (really?) more gelato in the plaza, the letter from the priests nod pilgrim passport stamps, and then, at last, hanging out in the kitchen, laughing and telling childhood stories and stories from Marco's twelve-hour shift that day working at the home of juvenile delinquents, and then some prayers. Good prayers of offering ourselves up to God, and to Him alone. And may we please, Lord God, echo Mary's remaining under, Not my will, Lord, but Your will be done. Perhaps we should pack up some of that still-damp laundry? Day Three.

Cathy Simons wrote Tracy today. She is walking through a time of moving closer and remaining under. And she wrote about Blatant Gratitude. And for me, may my heart sing with gratitude. Blatant Gratitude. Not now living my own life, but His. Pedal-sliced up shins and all.

Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women, And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

And now the pilgrimage has begun.the first step out of our front door, our home in Lugo, Italy.

"For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”