Looking from Poppi towards Mt. Penna, La Verna, Italy
While it will take a long while to write of the many insights that arose during my time at La Verna, what follows are first thoughts…
Arriving after a long-day’s journey, travelling from Switzerland to Milan, on to Firenze and into Arezzo where I caught the local for Bibbiena, my wonderful friend/driver Marco picked me up and we headed east toward the mountains. Around the first corner, he pointed up and said, “La Verna”. Instantly reminded of Yosemite’s Half Dome, where the Mariposa stone is hard this mountain felt soft, sculpted in a verdant forest that Italy has thankfully designated a National Park.
Looking through one of many clefts in the rock of La Verna
Thirty-five kilometers later Marco set me down with a hug on the edge of the car park with plans to pick me up in the same place six days later. Watching him head back down the mountain, looking at the statue of St. Francis, it somehow felt auspicious that I’d not brought my large, easy to roll four-wheeled suitcase, and instead had borrowed a friend’s slightly tattered small, two-wheeled dragger. Getting my fancy luggage over the cobblestones, never mind up the slight slope to the sanctuary a good 10 minute walk away would have been gruelling to say the least.
Light reveals the truth of our bonds
and the illusion of bondage and that which binds us
Taking my first step a 22-year old memory welled up: the moment I arrived at Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling for a three-day retreat, and the minute I got out of my car I knew that I wanted to stay longer. Equal to that moment, a part of me knew that coming down the mountain would be tearful but that such droplets are divine lubricants for every return.
Looking out from inside the cell of St. Francis, La Verna, Italy
Four-days off the mountain, re-entry into our very unreal reality continues to jolt me with energetic shocks. More than cultural, waves of memories wash over my body; six blissful nights of deep sleep where I didn’t have to read myself to sleep, and neither earplugs nor alarm clocks were necessary; the steep hike to the top of La Penna followed by daily long and short walks around the mountain as beauty, wonder and shimmering light effortlessly pulled me still illumines my mind. ‘Techno-monk’ for more than a week was bliss and without blaring headline news, email and phone, wounds in my heart finished their healing.
Catholic in the most profound sense, universal, and following the spirit of connection inside and out, sitting in solitude, my attention focused –meditation/prayer/intent– was simple and thoroughly meaningful. While there were many people, I found many small hiding places inside and out that the fast moving masses seldom discover. When pulled from reverie by a camera blitz or a booming voice, I learned to keep still and calm, and count to three, and they disappeared.
Looking down on the Precipice
However, for me, the real magic continues to grow in the ongoing dialogues that were ignited in the spacious community dining room as delicious, home-style meals shared with others, visitors and pilgrims. Teti, Lucio, Alberto, Franz, Dana, Paul, and Nirmala, I will long remember all of you.
La Verna… whatever your spiritual path, this is a place to go and stay awhile, embracing the silence that illumines the Mother of Love that holds one and all in her loving embrace. Coming down from this place I had a new awareness and understanding about why Pope Francis took the name he did and has the courage to live the life he does.
We are vessels. What will you carry into this day? What will you carry into the Future?
P.S. The sisters/nuns are amazing and loving. Give Suore Priscilla a hug; she’s the bright light who lovingly attends the museum which is a don’t miss. And the friars? My heart feels strongly that Francis would be disappointed to see their girth and watch them thumbing the I Phones that are barely obscured in the pocket of their robes. But listening to them sing made me forgive their impulse towards modernity 🙂
The web is filled with many ‘expected’ pictures of the place, its amazing architecture and nature, so my photos here are shared to communicate a sense of the ineffable, something felt…
I hope you enjoy them…