Tuesday, September 12, 2017

As-salam alaikum.

For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.
But God shoots His arrow at them;
    they are wounded suddenly. Psalm 64:7

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Matthew 7:1-5

No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves. –Francis of Assisi

Ah, Facebook. The tie that binds.

I met Omar Fekeiki, a journalist from Baghdad, Iraq, under the big eucalyptus tree in the backyard one evening maybe twelve years ago when he came over to meet Ali. One evening, and still our lives are linked, and he shares his perspective occasionally, and mine grows with understanding.

Such is Facebook.

And today he shared a post from Abdalla Al Omari, a Syrian refugee who began an art series out of a justifiable frustrated anger, and yet, over time, it turned his heart tender, as each of our hearts should be tender to the vulnerability and brokenness that each human carries deep within.

And today Dre posted someone’s story on Facebook too… that of a former neo-Confederate, who traced the relatively reasonable path of pivotal events and scattered bits of information and just-now-articulated emotions that led him to hold an abhorrent perspective. Just like me, who also has over a lifetime pieced together equally haphazardly stitched together self-evident yet blurred perspectives from which I view the world. And her peoples.

And today I took another breezy walk along the battle trench and read a memorial which read something about of the partisan brigade’s victory over the confused and broken Nazi-Barbarism. Ten meters further along the now-jogging path was another memorial, this one in honor of this sacrifice which remains the last crime of Italian blind hatred of Italian; remember that union generates strength, freedom and the weapons of justice, love and the seeds of life.

 And really it doesn’t matter whose side was whose. There stamped in the marble are the photos and names of beloved young men: sons, husbands and fathers. None of us really know what we are doing.

 And when the LORD God Almighty chose to enter this brokenness in molecular form, He extended wide His merciful arms and forgave the spitters and cursers for they knew not what they did. What we do. What I do.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

It is He who looses the arrows into the depths to pierce the darkness. It is He who casts light. It was by His wounds that we are healed of ours. And it is He who looked up in the sycamore fig tree and called out: Zacchaeus!" he said. "Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.

A guest takes off his shoes and enters the doorway of the home, humbly and gratefully receiving what is served while listening to the stories told around the table. Quick to hear, slow to speak.

We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way. –Francis of Assisi

May I today follow in my beloved Savior’s footsteps and in those who have faithfully followed afterwards with their eyes fixed upon Him, undistracted by the specks of dust cast up by the enemy.

Monday, September 11, 2017

For the fourth act, the conductor laid down His baton so that He could guide for this most important moment with both hands. –Matteo Penazzi

You have kept count of my tossings; 
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
This I know, that God is for me.
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?
I must perform my vows to you, O God;
    I will render thank offerings to You.
For You have delivered my soul from death,
    yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life. Psalm 56

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.  -Hosea 2:18-19

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34

The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it. -Dietrich Bonheoffer

 Matteo and I went for an early morning walk in a thick coat of autumn fog. We came along an embankment built up high between the shorn fields. “This was the division between the American troops and the Italian troops during the war. Our grandfathers remember having to get up in the night and dig the trenches. But then they began bombing us from overhead, so it didn’t matter anymore.”

Now folks in sweat suits and new running shoes take a quick jog along the top before going into work.

And while time is not the instrument of healing, it does give perspective to the process.

And as we pray to be instruments of peace in a world full of exploded dreams and blasted hopes, my thoughts turn to that of the Master Conductor, the One Who Holds The World in His Hands.

Last night friends and family gathered in Ravenna to watch a master conductor, Riccardo Muti, lead a group of “young talents,” including Matteo Penazzi as a first violinist, into the veritable forest of the Guiseppe Verdi opera Aida.

And goggle.translate is of course a little shaky, but it does poetic justice to the role of the conductor: The role of the director, central to these courses, is constructed with a series of infinite precious indications that could even be transposed from the podium to any other command role. "You're released. Look at them. Have confidence in them. They are the ones who save you. Use a few words. Do not lose sight of them." 

And the job of the musician is to keep his eyes fixed on the conductor’s hands. He must not be distracted by the wobbly clarinet to his right, the trembling squeal to his left, or the pounding bass drum in the rear. His instrument is his only responsibility. Even when he is still, his focus is on the rhythm of the right hand and the flow of the left, the master’s hands, and His infinite precious indications.


He is trustworthy. Invincible.

So che Dio è per me.

Whom shall I fear?

No one.

Whom shall I judge?

No one.

And just for you, kind Matteo, yes. What shall I do?

I shall render thanks offerings for all of His gifts, especially the ones that sometimes I do not notice or appreciate like sweet pear preserves made after the harvest smeared onto homemade rolls, and paper towel napkins, and the stillness of a Monday afternoon in which to read Bonhoeffer. 

That I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

And be an instrument of peace. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The call within the call.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17

Your eyes are like a window for your body. When they are good, you have all the light you need. Matthew 6:22

We can do not great things, only small things with great love. What is important is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it. –Mother Teresa

So yesterday I hitchhiked for the first time.

One thing God has been speaking to me about on this journey is the good humility that comes from receiving hospitality, to confessing need and to open up one’s hand instead of one’s front door. Which for me is a lot easier. I like opening up the front door.

But I don’t have one any more.

So I held up an assortment of signs and held out my thumb on the curve of the road suggested to me by the desk clerk, right next to the sign announcing the exit of Assisi, leaving the city of peace.

And honestly, it was not out of financial need that I hitchhiked. I had a pocket full of euros. It was more about the need to practice asking and receiving. And it gave me a tiny glimpse from the eyes of those who ask by the side of the road. Eyes that look with hope at each passing stranger. And a tiny longing of expectation, perhaps this will be the one…

Swish, swish, swish. Car after car zipped by, with barely a glance. Each car dangling a Francis cross from its rearview mirror. Swish.

And so many times I have swished past. And edged past with the anxious excuses and averted eyes of the priest and the Levite. And I also felt the weight of my God Bless America country and our collective closed fist.

And once a car slowed down and indicated with hand signals that he was not going in my direction.

And as time wore on, I had to move forward to keep standing in the shade. Later on there was no shade. Just the hot sun and the hot pavement.

But I made the decision. I chose to stand in the sun. It was an option that so many do not have.

And after a long while, a small black car pulled over and a kindly man opened the door. And he really wasn’t going to take me far. He took me to the train station. And gave me two euro to buy coffee. And asked for prayer for his mother-in-law who is having surgery today. And I drank an espresso and went to the toilet and greeted a fellow pilgrim who was returning to Munich.

And then I stood just a bit down the road from the train station. In just a bit, another man pulled over and opened the door. And I didn’t exactly understand what he was saying; I thought he was saying that he could take me half way since he was on his way to Milan. But really, he too wanted to find me a better place to stand, at the entrance to the highway to Milano.

The sun was quite hot now.

The cars were slowing down to take a right to Assisi or speeding up to go to Milano, when one last car pulled over. And he was a young guy, who tried to come up with lots of options for me to do anything but hitchhike. And finally we decided that the best thing would be for me to take a cheap bus to Bologna, the one his girlfriend always takes to visit her family. So he drove and drove way out of his way, to leave me at the bus stop at Perugia.

So I took the bus. In addition to receiving rides and coffee, I would also like to practice receiving advise.

And each of these men did small things with great love.

And even though this was just a morning in my very full life, I am hoping that it becomes a road marker in my mind and heart, and mostly in my eyes.

May I have the eyes of the one standing or sitting or even lying by the side of the road.

And may this light fill my body, and my hands and feet each day.

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” –Luke 10:37

Free us, Lord, from every chain : except the love that binds us to your way.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8

And taking a long walk is not magical, and does not, in itself, change much except for your socks. But it does create space around you, maybe inside of you, and with space and light, things can happen to us. Things grow, things breathe and dead things can dry up and turn back into soil and dust. -Scott Coverdale

Guide my feet while I run this race. 
Guide my feet while I run this race.
Guide my feet while I run this race,
for I don't want to run this race in vain! -
 African American Spiritual 
For it is in giving that we receive.
Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words. Francis of Assisi

Yesterday's lunch of a traditional pork sandwich and now traditional bare feet in the grass overlooking the spaciousness had this question: how do we go about serving others in humility and love, not to be seen by men or to make ourselves feel worthy?

How to walk out the stillness and space of today in the world to which we are returning?

How can more be changed than just our socks?

Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. -Francis of Assisi

And it will not be so much the stories we tell or the deep thoughts we share; it has all been said before.

Rather if we can return with light in our footsteps and a smile in our opened eyes. To plant seeds of hope in soil that has been cleared of tangled weeds, enriched with old truths, and tossed up high into the fresh wind.

Lord, open our eyes to see that the fruit of life comes when we plant seeds of hope among those whom the world rejects. Amen.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The closer you get, the easier it is to see.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:44-49

“What hinders spiritual -people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins. I tell you in truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul becomes so dark and my heart so cold that I must lament and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.” -Mechthild of Magdeburg

But the joy that fills the heart of the spiritual person destroys the deadly poison of the serpent. -Francis of Assisi

Thank you, Lord, that no sin is too small to bring the conviction of heart that may lead us to repentance and more faithful living. Convict us of our smallest sins so we might learn to delight in Your ways. 

May the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You, Oh Lord. 

The true delight from this walk is not found so much in the breathtaking beauty of Italian forests, nor the freedom and peace of simply greeting each moment with the simple shrug of Michael, “We shall see,” but rather in the sweeping and scrubbing of the soul, as my friend Jesus and I work together to create a place of joy.

In His light, away from all of the clutter and hurriedness and distractions, one can acknowledge and release the sourness, the resentments, the fears, the  rooted lies, and release them into the bright beauty of His mercy.

Where there is charity and wisdom there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility there is neither anger nor worry. -Francis of Assisi

Keep a clear eye toward life's end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God's creature. What you are in His sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing you have received, but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage. -Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

May it be a sweet, sweet sound to Your ears.

I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
    for you saw my affliction
    and knew the anguish of my soul.
You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
    but have set my feet in a spacious place. Psalm 31: 7-8

It is the devil's greatest triumph when he can deprive us of the joy of the Spirit. He carries fine dust with him in little boxes and scatters it through the cracks in our conscience in order to dim the soul's pure impulses and its luster. -Francis of Assisi

Hiking a pilgrimage is not quite as dramatic a shift in vistas as cycling, but still there is the anticipation of each bend in the road, and the glorious light and colors and shapes awaiting us.

Well, beyond each bend somehow up a steep path is waiting… how is it possible to have so many mountains in one day?

Certainly there are spacious spaces spread out before us, and my hiking companion Michael and I can only marvel at this gift. 

And I am glad and rejoice in His unmerited love. 

And sometimes some of the Enemy’s fine dust gets in our eyes, so we have memorized the Francis Prayer: O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Michael is knocking on the door. It is time for a cup of espresso, a sweet cake and cinched belts.

Make me an instrument of Your peace. 

I was reading my meditations from last year in Assisi, and I had written down a reminder from Marco: the music comes not from the instrument, but from the musician. 

May it be so.