Friday, January 19, 2018

Christus mansionem benedicat

Monache Agostiniane d'Urbino

Yes, sorry. I know I've been away a long time. Just found this lovely little video from Italian TV series "I passi del silenzio" - Footsteps of silence. It's a series of one hour videos showing a single day in the life of a monastery, with interviews. Beautifully shot, and if you have even a little Italian, very uplifting. I was surprised to hear them chanting the Magnificat at Vespers in Latin using the Chant.

I actually went up to Norcia for the Christmas weekend. It turned into five days in all, and was wonderful, though at first very painful and difficult. It was the first time I've been up since going to the house to fetch out my belongings, and the first time since the quake that I've been there just to be there, and not for "business" reasons. I wanted to make a proper retreat of it, and the monks very kindly allowed me to attend many of the Offices, including the whole thing on Christmas eve. From 1st Vespers then a break for a quick bit of dinner and a couple of good stout coffees to fuel the marathon, to Matins that started at 8pm and went straight through to Midnight Mass, then Laudes afterwards. We few who made it all the way through were there until 2:30 am.

The glorious experience of the Christmas Eve liturgy also cemented something in my soul. I feel as though my lines had finally been re-secured, to use a nautical image, that had been flapping wildly in a storm for over a year. This was the thing that remains deep in my heart after everything; that particular form of intimate communication with God in the liturgy of the Office. At once so intimidating and so enticing, a paradox. The incredible intensity of joy and the enormity of the silence, the not-about-you-ness of it is something close to terrifying.

After I got home, the innernet was off for a week or so, and I was happy to let it stay off for a bit and have a little in-house retreat. I've been given Isaiah to read along with the Office, and it's dense and intense, like 70% dark chocolate. You have to read very, very slowly, and something strange starts to happen when you do. Your perceptions of things alters in ways that are hard to describe. After a week or ten days of not much more than Isaiah, the Psalms and some sewing and housework, the din and clamour of the world - especially the frantic yammering of the internet - seems to become mostly irrelevant. It was hard to put it back on again.

Suddenly being face to face with the Living God without distractions, made me start to understand why people often flee from their vocations. We like our lives to be trivial & superficial, unchallenging and "normal". But we are no judge at all of what "normal" really is.

This world, and this life, is what we know. It's what we imagine we can control & understand. But only because of how small and limited we are. That whole vasty reality of God's is something we just don't want in our little house. We fear He won't fit, like a lion whose nose barely makes it into the door and whose shoulders could shake apart the whole house. The merest whisper of this titanic reality is more than we can bear. So we retreat and run.

It's a terrible thing, but it's the reason why I would prefer to watch Big Bang Theory and Star Wars videos on YouTube than be alone with the Lord God of Hosts. Thank God He never gives up chasing us, no matter how hard we try to avoid Him.

O Lord, increase my faith in You.

Some Norcia holiday pics.

Dolcezze, everyone's favourite pastry shop, re-opened in time for Christmas after months of renovation. One of only about 30 businesses still open or re-opened in Norcia.

... including the blessed Norcia pizza take-away. Best I've ever had, and an immensely cheering and encouraging sight to see when almost nothing else in the centro was open.

Norcia cows.

From the agritourismo on the hill next to the monastery, looking down to town and toward the valley entrance. Weather was very changeable, sunny, foggy, raining, brilliant clear nights and some wind. Never dull.

There were mornings, especially in November, when you would look out the window and see the fog settled into the valley looking like a huge bowl of milk.

They don't see many people that high up on the mountain at this time of year. All eyes were on us on our little hikes.

The trail leading up to the road from the Tana dei Lupi agritourismo. Fun early in the morning, but too dangerous at night. Fallen oak leaves covering big loose stones, but also at night lots of wolves, wild boar and other night hunters and gatherers. Good fun early in the beautiful mornings though.

On the way to Terce, a good stiff climb first thing in the morning.

The new chapel in monte.

The monks' presepio on Christmas morning.

What "crollate" means. This was one of the fanciest houses in town, next door to the monastery on the hill.

For just a few minutes before I had to go get on the bus, it was nice to feel normal again. Thank God the Seneca was not damaged.

And back at home, Pippy enjoying the wood stove in the kitchen in his inimitable way.

And over the front door. I've never done it before. Thanks Jamie for such a good explanation.

Christus mansionem benedicat.