Sunday, May 31, 2009

More thoughts on Rome #3 (modified)

More from Doerr

In the Tom Andrews Studio I open my journal and stare out at the trunk of the umbrella pine and do my best to fight off the atrophy that comes from seeing things too frequently. I try to shape a few sentences around this tiny corner of Rome; I try to force my eye to slow down. A good journal entry—like a good song, or sketch, or photograph—ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought be a love letter to the world.

Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar. Only then can routine experience—buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello—become new all over again.

The same can be said of the routine of worship. In my first sermon after returning from Rome I spoke of how the difference between visiting Rome as a tourist and visiting as a pilgrim were the moments when, beyond the awe of the beauty of churches, beyond the incredible feeling of being in churches where Christians had prayed for almost 2000 years, I felt connected to the Christians praying beside me. We didn’t share language, culture, or rite but in that moment we shared a common faith, a common love and we abided together in that love. As I spoke these words and looked out at these people I gather with once a month, people I’m coming to know, I was struck by how what I found in Rome is something I experience regularly here. The familiarity of worship in Southern Alberta had obscured for me the joy and miracle of coming together in a common faith with a community of people which whom I might not otherwise have come together with.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

T.S.Eliot from The Four Quartets

Saturday, May 30, 2009

More thoughts on Rome #2

More treasures from Doerr:

He spends much of his year in Rome reading Pliny the Elder’s, Natural History:

Read in a certain way, the Natural History is preposterous, full of erroneous assumptions and cast-off mythology. Read another way, it is a window into Roman understanding two millennia ago. Read another way, it is a tribute to wonder itself.

Later he will write of his boys:

Diaper rashes creep up the boys’ chests and backs. Still, their enthusiasm for the world astounds. Everything—a role of tape, a telephone jack, each other’s hair—warrants investigation. Whoever says adults are better at paying attention than children is wrong: we’re too busy filtering out the world, focusing on some task or another, paying no attention. Our kids are the ones discovering new continents all day long. Sometimes, looking at them, I feel as if Henry and Owen live permanently in that resplendent, taut state of awareness that we adults only reach when our cars are sliding on ice through a red light, or our airplane is thudding through turbulence.

“Paying attention” – it comes up in the work of Simone Weil and Iris Murdoch, and in the advice of spiritual directors and counselors. Danny Gregory wrote a lovely little book about how paying attention to the world around him and drawing it helped him to make sense of the new reality of his life when his wife was left in a wheelchair after falling in the New York subway.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thoughts on Rome

Before I went to Rome I read Anthony Doerr’s Four Seasons in Rome. It is a memoir of the year Doerr, his wife and 6 month old twins spent in Rome on a fellowship from the American Academy of the Arts. I had come across it at Chapters when it first came out and gave it to a friend of mine because reading a bit of it in the store I thought she’d like it. She did and when I started to prepare for my trip I decided I would read it. I loved it, referred to it often in conversations with Betta until she was sick of it, and decided I would read it again when I returned. So while on retreat this week as I’ve been reflecting on my time in Rome I picked it up again only to discover that it was like reading it for the first time.

The first time I read it I loved Doerr’s descriptions of their apartment, the streets where they walked, their struggles to communicate in Italian, their adventures buying groceries and communicating with doctors. Much of what he described resonated with the year I lived in Germany studying at the Universität Tübingen. There is nothing more humbling than struggling to buy bread when you are used to taking your ability to communicate for granted. My supervisor told me that he had a button he would wear when he lived in Germany as a student. It read, “I’m really very intelligent in my own language.”

This week when I read it again, however, it wasn’t just the experience of being a foreigner that I was remembering. I was remembering the places he was describing, I could smell the smells, and hear the sounds. It was such a delight to be back in the Pantheon remembering the power of looking up into the dome and seeing the Oculus. But mostly I gave thanks that his beautiful descriptions of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza prompted me to seek it out.

He and his wife had stumbled across it and you’d have to. It isn’t one of the churches on the ‘must see’ tourist lists and it is off the street inside a courtyard. It isn’t a big church either – essentially it is the chapel for the oldest university in Rome. It was designed by Borromini and finished in 1660. His description captures part of how stunning it is – I experienced vertigo looking up into the ceiling and we sat down quickly so that we could gaze up safely.

You notice first how white it is. A few railings are touched with gold, but all the rest is white: white six-pointed stars, white windows, white balconies. And you notice how unlocked it feels, free of pillars and registries and choir stalls and auxiliary chapels. Strands of sunlight lean through two of six high windows. It seems less a church than a tabernacle, less a temple to God than a temple to light.


We sit in the corner and try counting the six points of the star as the architecture climbs toward the lantern, but we quickly get dizzy and lose count; we are honeycombed, we are trapped inside the molecules at the center of a snow crystal. The pews, the crucifix, the dwarfed altar--they all seem completely irrelevant. It is all space, all geometry, all ceiling. In the restless walls I glimpse patterns: mountains and streams, snow blowing across the freeway, a train of climbers winding along the edge of a glacier. Everything forms and re-forms. We sit on our little bench and feel the church coil and twist above us, a wintry heart, a tornado of plaster.

I will always be thankful to Doerr for the gift of this church.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What I did in Rome

Here is an article by my friend, Betta, who was a wonderful guide and companion on the Pauline pilgrimage. It was a great pilgrimage - the only thing I didn't enjoy was trying to find someone at St. Peter's who knew anything about it so that I could get my sticker for my credential. My favourite spot on the pilgrimage was the Abbey of the Three Fountains.
My pilgrimage credential. It was unbelievably difficult to collect the sticker from St. Peter's.

The cell thought to be where Paul was held before his execution.
The Abbey church. These pilgrims were singing, reading and praying and it was very moving.

One of the three springs were according to tradition water sprung up when Paul's head bounced after he was beheaded.
The column that is considered to be the one upon which Paul was beheaded.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Break from Italy - corrected

Well, not entirely. While I was in Italy my friend Betta introduced me to TED talks. Maggie Dawn has a neat post about the guidelines they give their speakers here.

And here is a really neat talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cosmatesque style tile floors

St. John Lateran - corrected

The baptistery was stunning

Statues of the twelve apostles were added to the church in the 18th cent.
Scala Santa - these steps were brought from Jerusalem and are said to be the steps from Pilate's palace that Jesus climbed. The faithful climb them on their knees.

Scenes from the Streets of Rome

You wouldn't know Pepsi even exists in Rome - there is no sign of it anywhere except in McDonald's

All the cars are little which makes parking easier....but that doesn't stop them from being shmucked...almost every car I saw had something scraped or crumpled....

Spectacular Mosaics and Frescoes

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Amalfi Cathedral of St. Andrew

The relics of St. Andrew

The Amalfi Coast

Holy Ground - Assisi

This is really an incredible place. It is difficult to describe how the spirit of prayer and peace pervades this town. St. Francis is one of the patron saints of Italy and when I was going through the Vatican Museums I noticed that images of him showed up in Italian art early. This isn't surprising when you consider that he was canonized almost immediately. You aren't allowed to take pictures inside the churches but the frescoes of Giotto are breathtaking.