Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

I have to admit, I can get scared sometimes.

It is strange how fear works. I can travel around the world all by myself and hardly blink an eye, while I have friends who would find just getting on the airplane to be nerve-wracking. Forget spending months on end in a foreign country all alone.

Yet sometimes, if I am reading or discussing a scary topic, all my bravery goes right out the window and I am left wishing I had purchased more lamps for my bedroom. Like maybe 10 more.

This happened to me last night. Too many scary topics and too much thought.

The former Pope John Paul II was known to say, "do not be afraid!"

Then suddenly, I saw the former Pope John Paul II in my mind. I imagined him standing there saying “Do not be afraid!” as he did so many times during his pontificate. My creative version of his person seemed to show him looking up towards heaven, and I felt strongly the impression to just focus on the goal and never turn away. Just focus on Heaven.

Tunnel vision. Heavenly tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision can actually be an incredible help, and I have used it many times in other situations. For example, when I moved to London I went through a myriad of challenges that could have sent me packing back home if I had not been determined enough to stick them through. But I did, and it was largely due to my repeated focus on my goal. I forced myself into living life with nothing but tunnel vision for the future.

I was so completely into utilizing tunnel vision that I would stand on the underground platforms morning and evening, silently bopping to my iPod, and just focus on my dreams, as if I was looking through a tunnel and had to filter out everything but my goal. Much of why I succeeded was because of that.

So the thought of using tunnel vision in the spiritual life really caught my attention. Was this what the saints did? Did people like Pope John Paul II always have Heaven as their one goal, ever before their eyes?

And when thinking about Heaven as their goal, what did they think about? Did they think about the joy of meeting Christ in person? Of finally getting to know Mary, the Mother of God, face to face? Of wiping away every tear they had ever shed and every fear that had ever haunted them, and living eternally in peace and bliss? Of finally seeing all the scoffers gaping wide-eyed in awe at the truth they had denied?

St. Therese of Lisieux even used to say that as a young girl, she dreamed of Heaven. When she went through her dark night, and her mind was clouded by dark obsessions, it was the thought of Heaven that had once given her such great joy that she most seemed to miss. And not the Heaven of rewards – for her it was the Heaven of just loving and being loved that she dreamed of, without anything to stand in her way.

Heaven. Tunnel Vision. Heaven.

Yet tunnel vision is not always easy to maintain. Anyone who has read the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis knows that life has many plots and plans to divert our attention away from the meaningful to the trivial and the mundane. The TV, news, the internet, the radio – anything, said the little devil in the Screwtape Letters, to distract souls from their goal of Heaven.

So what can we do to fight back? How can we develop such tunnel vision for Heaven in our lives if we are so inclined?

One tactic that always helped me in the secular life was to make a list of my goals, with the most important at number one and then descending in their value to my life. Not only did I make this list once, but I re-wrote it over and over. Changing it, editing it, copying it – it did not matter what I did to it. I just wrote it time and time again.

I would be hanging out with friends and all of a sudden I would start making my list (I was not rude though – I only did it if the opportunity was right), or at night I would sit and re-write. I would pin it to the wall in my bathroom, and read it while I was brushing my teeth.

While I did not accomplish every goal that I made on that list, and there are places where I failed, I accomplished enough of them to feel good about it. Yet I also accomplished enough secular goals to know that they alone do not make a person truly happy.

This is why Heaven is my true goal. The Heaven of love, where all is love and no one can think a thought or lift a finger without love for God and others.

If more people had this goal ever in their sight, what would the world be like? If we all had little “Post-Its” on our TVs, computers, mirrors, notebooks, day planners, iPods, cell phones – everywhere – that said “Goal: Heaven! Is what you are doing right now going to help get you there?” I wonder how that would change our lives.

I for one am going to start making a new list, with Heaven at the top and my vision of why Heaven is so amazing underneath it. This is my new tunnel vision for my spiritual life, and I am liking it.

Goal: Heaven! To one day live forever in a place where love is given and received endlessly, and without any selfishness or ugliness ever interfering. HEAVEN!”

I wonder if the great Pope John Paul II is smiling in Heaven and saying, “you go girl! Adjust the focus of your mental lens! And always remember, do not be afraid!”

High-five to you John Paul! The focusing is on!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Anne Catherine Emmerich, the great German mystic who died in 1824, once said that it was revealed to her in a vision that most medieval souls prepared for spiritual events with a devotion greater than what was present even in her own day. She explained that this fervor of deep religious spirituality which existed in the Middle Ages could not be comprehended by the people of her time, who had lost such a profound inclination.

Medieval pilgrims clothing

If this is so, then how much more must we, almost 200 years later, be unable to comprehend the inner world of the devout medieval pilgrim preparing for his spiritual adventure. Yet I cannot help but feel that it may be worth considering what these preparations were like and what this can say for my own daily pilgrimage here in Italy and throughout the greater pilgrimage of life.

The externals of the pilgrims spiritual preparation are historically documented and easy to come by. Encouraged to prepare for the well-being of their soul, there was an assortment of rituals or personal actions that they could take. These included:

  • attending a consecration ceremony where they would obtain the Church’s blessings on their souls and their journeys.
  • confessing their sins to the priest and being “shriven.”
  • being sprinkled with Holy Water.
  • given a staff to carry on their journey. This became a symbol announcing to the world that they were a pilgrim and not a traveller with less honorable motives. There was even a blessing for this staff which would be imparted.
  • fasting.
  • speaking with an elder who had experienced pilgrimage first hand, gaining wisdom and insight for the road.
  • making vows, such as not to speak unnecessarily or to abstain from sex, all in an effort to focus on their inner experience of the journey.

These are just some of the external actions that could be taken and can today be historically studied. What is more elusive  is the effect that these exterior actions had on the souls of the pilgrims and what other private devotions they may have added. In a nutshell, what was the spiritual life of a pilgrim preparing for such a journey like?

A pilgrim as pictured on the side of a medieval cathedral in England

This is where we enter into the undocumented realm of private devotions, prayers, meditations, and contemplations. If Anne Catherine Emmerich is right, and many medieval souls were far more devout in their preparations for great events, then we can only begin to imagine what intensity their prayer lives and personal devotions must have reached and the resulting richness they could have experienced.

It is likely that they prayed more and may have spent more time in meditation and contemplation. They may have asked for spiritual illumination and profound experiences that would change them in powerful ways. They may have asked for saints to intercede for them, guardian angels to look after them and they may have tried to approach each day as sacred while remaining open to signs and clues along their path.

Of course, this is just my speculation, but as a Catholic I am fortunate in that I possess one direct link back to this mindset, and that is my faith. What I believe today was believed 800 years ago, and thus while my external experience may never be the same my internal one has the potential to resonate strongly with that of the medieval pilgrim if only on the level of personal spirituality.

As I try to piece together what their secret preparations must have been like, I begin to see that it was a mental realm of intense faith unlike that of what we understand today.

For my own pilgrimage here in Italy and for the voyage of my life, I find in their example a need to cultivate this faith in the supernatural to levels that are the exact opposite of what our modern society expects from us. I see the importance of approaching each day as sacred and as a journey in itself. 

Only then will the richness of a soul seeking the divine be able to flourish and only then will I understand what it truly is to be a pilgrim here in Italy and throughout my life.

Perhaps I will also be able to understand something of what is was like centuries ago as well.

Read Full Post »

A few weekends back, I made a Saturday trip to the somewhat small town of Spoleto. (I say “somewhat” as the historic medieval/Renaissance/Baroque portion is still fairly small, but outside its walls the urban landscape has grown.) It looked like a great place to go for someone obsessed with picturesque, medieval hill-top towns surrounded by beautiful views. So off I went!

I took an early train from Rome and at the train station in Spoleto I caught a city bus to the historic center (recommended for arriving. Leaving it is ok to walk – all downhill! Although the environs that surround the hill town are more modern and less ‘viewer friendly.’)

Exploring the city, I caught some great footage and put together a short travel video. You can check it out here:

 

Some things that I did not include were the castle (worth taking a hike up to for the views, which I added at the end of the video. However, the castle itself has been altered by its past as a prison. It has some nice frescoes and a few interesting artifacts though.) and my hair-raising journey trying to find one of the monasteries pictured in my video. (Somehow I ended up walking on the side of a high-speed road, and then even tried to climb through a small path that was too overgrown to be of much help! I bet the Italians driving by had a field day with that! Even I was laughing at myself for such temporary insanity. What can I say? I am obsessed with medieval monasteries!)

When I did finally find the monastery though, an older man who was volunteering on the grounds to do maintenance work unlocked the deserted church for me and then motioned for me to follow him to the lower level. Feeling a bit hesitant as a solo female traveller to follow strange men into dark basements, I carefully trailed along at a significant distance. There, beneath the more “modern” Baroque church, he warmly showed me an ancient, hidden medieval one, with beautiful medieval frescoes that he took the time to explain to me in Italian. It was one of those moments you cannot easily forget, and somehow amidst the fascination of a personal tour by a man who made this place his life, I never thought to take a picture. I think I was too engrossed in his art historical perspectives and insights…and the feeling of stepping back into another forgotten time.

Upon leaving the lower church, and then the upper church, he locked the door and offered to drive me to another church which was even older and more ancient! Well, getting in cars with strangers (even nice ones with a good eye for art) is one thing I retained from childhood as a big “no” (I guess no one warned me about going into basements) so I walked the short 5 minute walk where I came across some surprise scenes for my video above. (Do check it out – they are a surprise and very interesting!)

Afterwards, I managed to make it back to town without gallivanting on the side of free-ways or tumbling through thistles and other dense foliage. There I shot a few more scenes for my video and then headed back to the train station.

Along the way, I stopped to ask directions from a young man who was so sweet. He went to speak but his voice could barely emerge from his throat. I could tell he had some sort of problem speaking which he was very shy and conscientious about, but he was so nice. I wanted to do something for him to show him some kindness, but those encounters between two strangers are so brief and I never know what to say. But the reality of suffering humanity touched me.

This brief interaction reminds me somewhat of the frescoes I had seen in the basement of that dimly lit medieval church. Standing there together, the Italian had gently taken my arm and lead me over to a fresco of the Madonna and Child. He explained that in Spoleto there were many of these, because during that time many children had fallen sick with the plague and it was a constant lingering threat to the people. So the “cittadini” of Spoleto were very devout in interceding to Mary for their young ones.

It was a touching window to the past, and into the concerns and fears of a people from long ago. Humanity still continues to suffer, but there must have been something very consoling to the people of that era to know that watching over them was a woman who, with her son, had also known great pain yet overcome it.

I will always be fascinated with the medieval mind. A cultural mentality so long-lost yet able to be reached through traces of the past.

Have you ever been interested in unlocking the mindset of another time and place?

Read Full Post »

Here is your ticket to a day in Orvieto, Italy with me – Alexandra!

You can also watch here, on my You Tube home page:

http://www.youtube.com/jcilt1

This is my very first video, and with practice things will get even better! I hope you enjoy 🙂

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: