We have had countless conversations about organized religion and have been to numerous services at different churches since we met. After we had kids, we spent a lot time trying to find the right place for our family, to no avail. We kept it light with the kids, as we tried different services and Sunday Schools, and we kept searching quietly.
As soon as we stopped searching, it happened. A gratitude ritual evolved naturally, no formal sermon required. In the past two months, without saying a word, the kids move toward churches no matter where we are. They sense the splendor in the architecture, the joy in the bells, the awe in kneeling at the pew. Completely of their own volition, they enter churches, pick their own pew, and close their eyes. When they are done, they get up and quietly explore the side chapels and crypts, even using their own Euros to light candles for different reasons. We haven’t studied Roman Catholicism or done units on Renaissance or Byzantine architecture. The kids have a reverence that can only come from within.
Last week, as the temperature dropped and the rain set in, I announced that we were going on hike to a monastery. This news was not well received but I persisted. We walked from Cortona, to Le Celle which is where Saint Francis retreated for reflection and solitude. His “celle” is still completely in tact and there are friars living true to his ways to date. We walked on the same blustery wooded path as Saint Francis until we reached Eremo Le Celle (1211) whitewashed in the verdant hillside.
The kids were stunned into silence as the waterfalls rushed down the mountain, bursting with autumnal rain. It seemed so natural to us to connect with the sacred spaces of the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology. Saint Francis was said to have practiced his sermons to woodland animals during his visits to Le Celle. We sought refuge from the storm in pilgrims chapels along the path, listened to the chickens clucking and the bells tolling that spoke of the friars that we never laid eyes on but we knew were present. Our five year old proclaimed, “I bet they are somewhere warm counting their blessings.”
Our hike through the Tuscan hills to Le Celle inspired us to venture to Assisi in Umbria the following day. Assisi was bathed in sun and the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi was the kids favorite church so far in Italy. While visiting the crypt of Saint Francis, many people were moved to tears. People of many faiths were present and brought to their knees as they descended into the beauty of the crypt from the upper church ordained by the famous frescoes of Cimabue, Giotto and others. We wandered into the San Francesco woodland that wound down into the valley for a few miles below Assisi. We had the privilege of seeing the ruins of the 13th Century monastery of Santa Croce, which was once inhabited by Benedictine nuns who treated weary pilgrims.
The next day, after thinking we had tired the kids out walking the path of Saint Francis of Assisi, they decided they wanted to see the Duomo in Oriveto. “We can’t leave this region without seeing the most popular church!” We looked at each other, and decided to follow their inspiration.
We were humbled by the cathedral that took three centuries to build but we left finding it harder to connect with such a vast space that was so attractive to tour busses. We all decided that our pilgrimage in the rain to Le Celle was the closest we have ever felt to so many things.
Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. ~ St. Francis of Assisi