In these early days of my sabbatical, I have been simply trying to rest and relax and unplug a little. Last week I spent most of it in riposo, as Italians might call it. This week I'm actually in Italy - more precisely in my favorite hill town, Orvieto, located in the province of Umbria. Orvieto is most known for it's duomo, one of the most beautiful in all of Italy that is called the "lily" of all cathedrals.
This area is rich in so many ways - natural beauty, art, food, beverages, and, especially, history. It's a place in my personal history, too. In 2006, I came here along with a small cohort from Fuller Seminary for a summer intensive. We immersed ourselves in the theology, spirituality and art of the medieval period - a time so integral to this area, to the church, and, honestly, to Western civilization. These Middle Ages - often misnamed as the Dark Ages - were actually a time of great expansion, whether culturally, artistically, spiritually and theologically. During my few weeks here that summer, I learned so much about the important influence that women had then in the church through their writing and witness - an understanding that we've only just begun to unearth over the past several decades. During those weeks, I also made a few lifelong friends.
So, I'm back in 2023 to this place so dear to my heart. It's my fourth time here. Each time I arrive I feel like I've returned to my spiritual home. This time is no different, other than that it will be the longest number of days I've spent here. I'm trying not to live as a tourist, but to settle in. To shop for food every day or so in Pam Local, the nearby grocery store. To honor this culture's daily period of afternoon repose. To make new friendships and to renew old ones. To rest and to renew.
During this time, I'll be refreshing my memory and expanding my learning of the feminine mystics of the Middle Ages, who come from this part of Italy. In a Facebook post a few days ago, I mentioned that I'll be reading Women Christian Mystics: Speak to Our Times, edited by David B. Perrin, OMI. In his introduction to a series of essays, this is what HE writes about listening again to these women who have "lived valiantly the drama of human life and who, to date, have not had the opportunity to teach us."
"Listening again does not mean we sit back in our comfortable tightly knit intellectual dwelling places and sigh contently knowing we've done our part to heal past wounds by passively patronizing women's stories with albeit our attentive ears. No, listening again means to allow their stories to touch our stories, to let their lives enter into our lives such that we gain the hard-won wisdom they have to offer. Nor does listening again mean we laboriously try to fit their stories into our preconceived categories. Rather, we listen in order to allow their stories to BREAK OPEN the sealed containers within which we sometimes live. We need their stories to provide for us the grist for our own wisdom. They have walked treacherous and burdensome ways, as do we as individuals and as a collective body. Taking up their stories into our lives provides some wider context within which we can reflect and expand our own worlds outside the often times patriarchal or other limiting horizons against which we have come to know and define who we are as Christians and as human beings."
May this time break me open from the sealed container in which I often live. May it provide discernment and wisdom. May it open me to a broader context and expansion of my own thought and being. And, particularly, may I be renewed and refreshed to live authentically.
Hello, Orvieto - my old friend! And, to you dear reader, welcome to Orvieto!