Encircling Wind

Wind. Over the years I have had some powerful experiences of wind. The past few days have been ones where wind has been a nearly constant companion. For the Thanksgiving holiday we are staying in a house on Whidbey Island, Washington as we gather our now far-flung sons together in a family gathering. The waters of Puget Sound are steps away from our view of the world dotted with boats and wood and rock. We find ourselves situated on a peninsula with water on each side of the road and houses. Perhaps it is because of this configuration that the experience of wind has been so profound.

On our first night here I was awakened by the rush of the wind as it made circles around the house. Safe under the covers, I listened as the wind’s voice spoke its words first to the tip of my head and then made its way along walls and the length of my body, growing softer as it moved its circuitous path around and around the house, arriving again at the top of my head. Whoosh…..whoosh…whoosh….the wind became visible to me. The sound was so powerful and strong I got up and went into the living room where I could keep my eye on the crashing waves spewing water and anything else that found itself housed in the salty brine onto the beach.

Sitting quietly in a chair, I began to remember the other places where wind had been such a full bodied experience. While I have known the force of wind on the North Shores of Minnesota and the rocky paths of the Irish coast, my fullest experience of the circling of wind was in the Abbey Church on the island of Iona, Scotland. Having arrived late in the day on this holy island that has welcomed pilgrims for hundreds of years, we made our way in the dark to the 9:00 p.m. service of prayer. Sitting in pews with people from all over the world, we sang and read and prayed beautiful words created by gifted writers and liturgists. But it was the wind that brought the real message of the evening. Round and round the building it rushed. You could hear the very pattern of its flight. Eyes met eyes and we all knew in some unspoken way that the movement of the Spirit was present.

This circling presence is what has been holding me and reminding me of that powerful night that still niggles at my heart. I would like to believe that one does not need to be on an island to have such a fullness. But as is almost always true in the spiritual life, our experiences are both real and metaphor for something larger, something wiser. Sometimes when we feel most an island, alone and cut off, the Spirit shows up to whirl around and remind us of its eternal presence. When that island of self feels most unmoored, the power of Spirit creates a nest of wind so powerful that we cannot ignore its place in our lives. Round and round it moves carrying its wisdom and strength. Round and round its force becomes a connection that will not let go. Round and round this Breath which breathed us all into being speaks.

This morning the wind is much calmer and the waters out the window are flowing with a greater gentleness. The sea birds are flying in a lazier, easier fashion as they search for breakfast. Logs swim along, guests from the north that will arrive on the beach to offer the makings of forts and caves for creative souls. The horizon is open except for the far off glimpse of mountains. Of course, the wind is still moving, the Spirit’s presence still flows but its voice, circling is less visible, subtler. And so it goes and always will.

But sometimes, sometimes, we need a wake up call…..like the rushing winds of Pentecost. Circling. Circling. Circling. And may we each find those moments whether on island or street corner, whether in the solace of sanctuary or the details of the every day.

So be it.


Compassion Cost

Is there a price tag for compassion? Those were the words that jumped off the page yesterday as I read the morning newspaper. The question came from an article that would have been easily overlooked tucked as it was amidst the usual murder and mayhem that makes black marks on white paper. The report was of a wayward bird. A rufous hummingbird to be exact. A bird that was observed at a nectar feeder in St. Paul by a woman who knew her birds. Good for her and good for this bird.

Terri Walls noticed the colorful yet miniature winged one, perhaps, even more visible with our blanket of white snow that came as an early gift this week. I don’t now if Terri has a bird book by the windows looking out to her feeders like we do, but she clearly knew something was unusual about this bird. You see the rufous hummingbird’s homeland is the Pacific Northwest in summer and Mexico in winter. She had the wisdom to contact the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and spoke with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator named Jessika Madison-Kennedy. Through the kindness and compassion of these two women the bird was captured and taken to the Center where it is awaiting a trip on the wings of another kind of bird…..a metal bird….to get it back on course. In Arizona.

Madison-Kennedy spoke of the bird “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The thought is that it had been blown off course by weather disturbances in the Pacific Ocean. And so it found itself here, in Minnesota, in some of the coldest days we’ve known in November in some time. While it was described as a “healthy adult male of typical size, a few inches long and a penny’s worth of weight”,this fragile creature needed to rely on the kindness of strangers. And now it is about to get the ride of its life so it can see familiar landscapes and join up with wings and beaks it knows.

Reading this article yesterday I couldn’t help but think of the many two-leggeds I know who must feel similar feelings to this rufous hummingbird. Blown off course. In unfamiliar landscape. Looking out for others that seem like faced, like winged, like feathered. We have all been there. We find ourselves in a place that doesn’t seem like a place we know and we wonder how in the world we got there. Sometimes this comes abruptly, out of the blue, with a choice or a decision that rocks our world. For many this is a constant, every day experience they’ve know their whole lives. Various circumstances bring on such a state…..slips in mental health……addiction….illness….loss…..grief….anxiety….depression……whatever the trigger….the result is being blown off course with what feels like a disturbance from some distant place.

Enter compassion. The question: “Is there a price tag on compassion?” came from the person organizing the conversation and compromise between Minnesota and Arizona to send and receive this tiny bird. Will it cost money? Yes. Lots, I would imagine. I don’t know how that will work out. I am confident that there are those who would scoff at the expense.

But as one who has taken the lead in life from one who believes in the care of the least and the lost, this seems a no brainer. Is there a price tag for compassion? I don’t think so. Compassion flows from the goodness of heart, the kindness of strangers, the blessings of beloved ones.

Today, I am imagining a tiny bird wondering what it in the world happened to its simple, flying, eating-sweet-things life. I am imagining this flash of color inside a flying plane headed south just like the human ones we call ‘snow birds’. I am imagining the moment at which the plane lands, the cage is opened and this fragile being lifts its body into warm, familiar sky and breathes home.
Is there a price tag on compassion? Yes. It takes all we have.



Sometimes it simply takes longer to make your way back into your regular life. Sometimes, after a walk to the mountain top, setting the alarm or doing the laundry seems odd, unnecessary. This is what my experience has been after ten days in Italy with an amazing group of spiritual pilgrims. Traveling as we did with an eye to the Holy, the beauty of each day staggered us. The privilege of another week’s travel through the beautiful landscape of France had me arriving home full to overflowing. Team that with jet lag and you can get a little loopy! Which is why I have not visited this space for awhile.

The truth of the matter is that the experience of this pilgrimage has left me somewhat wanting for words. Which is probably as it should be. The sheer magnitude of art, sacred space, beauty, language, food, and the hospitality that was showered upon me should be something that leaves one speechless. In might be enough to walk around the world stunned for awhile waiting for my body to catch up to my spirit, rather than the usual other way around. I find myself staring off in the middle distance remembering the way the fog rose off a Tuscan hillside. I can hear the sounds of Gregorian Chant from mass at St. Altimo Monastery ringing in the far reaches of my heart. The sight of bread….any bread….reminds me of the snap of crusty baguettes or flaky croissants. The gentle pace of a daily life that doesn’t include rush hour tugs at my sleeve.

I know. These are the delusions of the privileged and pampered. I know it and yet can’t make an apology because I learned things in all these experiences, things that in some way connect me in a deeper way to the One who breathed all that beauty into being, or was at the very least the object of its creation. This is what has me so baffled and unable to come fully again into the dailiness of my life.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of travel is that it offers the opportunity to see the world with another lens, to realize that all the nitty-gritty details of my life, those that can nag or worry me, have no bearing on the lives of others. It is a humbling, yet important thing, to realize that whole cultures are living full, beautiful, rich lives without much of the minutiae that can set my nerves on edge. What a gift! My world, my culture, my way of seeing the world is only one, tiny glimpse of what life can be like. Immersing one’s self in another place is the only way to really know this.

Another gift might be the ability to take a small dose of this and that and incorporate a new value into our own lives. Perhaps taking an evening stroll around the block as a family, as they do in Italy, is something that might draw people closer together, calm them down for the evening ahead. Maybe sitting facing the street, watching the ‘show’ of people and traffic, as they do in Paris, might be a good way to understand our neighborhoods and neighbors better, helping us to feel more connected to those around us. Or maybe the act of lighting a candle, remembering the saints in our lives, has a way of connecting us with those who have gone before who have shared their wisdom. Simple things, simple values that have traveled the miles with me and planted a seed.

Eventually, I will return to my regular life. My sleeping patterns will once again be on Minnesota time and my stomach will growl at the appropriate times of the day. No 3:00 a.m. granola! But for now I am content to still be in the weeds of travel. I will spend the next weeks or months reflecting on all that has passed before my eyes, all the rare sounds of languages not understood but beautiful still, the variety of life’s rhythms I have experienced,the tastes and smells of food not known in my common daily round.

My prayer is that I can come to some new understanding of what I value and what no longer serves me. The result of a true pilgrimage is that one walks the path in a new way having left behind what needed to be shed while carrying forward a new heart. No one need leave home to come to this. It is the gift of the pilgrim of the every day.

Blessings on all our paths…….


Peace and Tranquility

There are some characters in history with whom we feel a particular kinship. When many of us were adolescents we read the story of a young girl whose words rang true with the longings, the questions, the frustrations and the hope we felt in this often turbulent life season. In whichever English class we were required to read The Diary of Anne Frank, most of us became intrigued with the ways in which she wrote of her life held captive in the attic of an Amsterdam building. Whether male or female, our classrooms buzzed with her telling of a time that was not far from the memories of parents. If we were paying attention we made this connection and, what may have been lost on us in history class about war and the profiling of certain groups of people, awakened in a literature class. Anne’s arguments with parents and other adults and her love interest in Peter who shared her captivity was something we understood. Her tragic death sealed her life story forever in our memory.

Today I was privileged to visit the Anne Frank house and museum in this city ripe with canals and bicycles. The simple and profound way in which this experience has been created is a marvel. Beginning on the lower floor, we were able to see pictures of Anne, her family and those who had risked their lives to hide them full of life. These people looked ordinary and not heroic at all. Snippets of interviews with Anne’s father and others who survived seemed to lure us further and further up the narrow and winding stairs.

At one point I was keenly aware of how the wood on the steps was worn, a little valley of footsteps going upward. I thought of the fact that my feet were now being added to all those who have come to pay homage in this place and also the footsteps of Anne herself. All this walking led us past the bookshelves built to hide the entrance to the secret rooms and into the living quarters, now empty of furniture and decoration save for the pictures of movie stars and postcards Anne had glued to the walls more than seventy years ago. I was reminded of the teenagers rooms I have seen and how this pattern is in many ways universal…..the need to make a space with an imprint, a way of saying ‘this is my space….I am here…..I am alive.’

Finally the curving hallway leads into a room with the actual diaries. Ink on paper, blue and black, words that tell a story of a young girl’s hope of being a famous writer. Red ink is used to edit some of her writing, her own edits, a young writer hoping to be a better one. Without the benefit of a teacher, Anne edited and corrected her own words. Her desire to learn, to stay in touch with a world that was walled off to her fills me with awe. Her sister Margot continued studying Latin through a correspondence course and had one of the women who hid them act as if they were her lessons. This furthers my amazement.

And yet this is the power of hope. With their world as they knew it crumbling around them, they kept up the pursuits of education, intellect and plans for a life of freedom. My amazement comes from their courage and my wondering. Would I, under similar circumstances, do the same? Can you even imagine it? I find it difficult to do so.

As we walked through both the house and museum, there were languages being spoken from all around the world. The visitors were made up of all ages. Young girls looked at photos of someone not far from their own age. Young boys read words much like those of their classmates and sisters. Parents held their children’s hands perhaps a little tighter. Grandparents,many of whom had real memories of this historical time, had faces of a knowing sadness.

On one wall, pencil marks were visible…..the accounting of Anne and her sister Margot’s growth while they lived in these close quarters above a business and behind a fake bookshelf. I thought of all the doorways and closet walls around the world that hold similar marks. In one diary entry Anne said: “I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death… I think… peace and tranquillity will return again.”

For all those places in the world where there is no peace today. For all those places where children suffer and are in fear. For all those places where parents and grandparents are frightened for their children. For all the young girls and young boys whose future is uncertain. May the God of mercy bless and keep them all safe from harm this day. And may their future open in tranquility before them.



Allora. This is the Italian word we have heard over and over again in our daily walk. It can mean a myriad of things….so…well…therefore…let’s see….and seems to be tacked on the beginning of a sentence or in conversation to buy time, to wait for the right words to arrive, to hold another’s attention while you figure something out. It is even more charming if you have the ability to roll your ‘r’s’.

Allora. So…it is time to take our leave of this amazing country and this captivating landscape. We have seen mountains and valleys, fields full of olive trees and vineyards, the sun shining on the green and golds creating fully alive works of art. We have traveled to enough churches and cathedrals and basilicas to have us all trying for weeks to sort them out. Many were over the top in gold-gilt, frescoes and paintings with marble statues lining the walls. Others were simple, plain with only the sunlight shining through windows and incense to create an art of a different form. All to make a sacred place where people might encounter the Holy. When you travel with a group, you get to experience those things with which you felt only a small connection through the eyes of another whose world was moved by it. What a gift.

Last night as we gathered on the rooftop garden of our hotel only blocks away from the Vatican, we shared those things which had been blessing, those experiences we would take away from this pilgrimage. Like the art we had seen and the sacred places we had visited, people’s comments represented the fullness of form. Many will take a sense of simplicity while others will be bathed for days to come in the magnificence of the art and its opulence.

When it was my time to share what came to me was the realization that the majority of the architects and artists began a work they would never live to see competed. One dome in a church we visited took 140 years to complete. Several lifetimes in those days. I thought of how often I want to see results. Now. Not in a week, a day, a year. Now. What does it mean to come fully to the knowledge that what we create, what we work for, what we hope for, may never be seen by our eyes, in our lifetime?

One gift of travel is that your eyes are opened to the longevity of the world, its places, its people. Being surrounded as we have been by the ancient and lasting, I have once again been confronted with how often I make my living small. With the minute details and worries I fashion for myself. With my way of forgetting the vastness of the Universe and the beauty and complexity of its people. With the many ways I pretend as if I am not connected to the fullness of it all. Has this ever been your experience?

Allora. So….then….it is time to move on and take the gifts of being a pilgrim at this time, in these days, in this one particular and precious life with me into the next days. The fullness of it all may not be realized for some time. It may take hours and days of reflection. But each day is a beginning toward something I may or may not see come to fruition. I feel as if I am in good company in that.



Amazing Grace

There are so many things that we can decide divide us as human beings. There are nations and languages. There are different political and theological views. There is certainly economic status which influences the places we live and the kinds of work we do. There are racial and sexuality divides. Over the course of humanity we have built up so many ways to create a divide where perhaps one really does not exist.

But one of the things that can unite us is music. Yesterday as we continued our pilgrim path in Italy, we had a full bodied experience of how music can bring seemingly disparate people,from various countries, speaking several languages together. In a church. What a gift it was!

Several members of our traveling band of pilgrims had the privilege to worship at the Waldensian Church in Sienna. We had made contact with the minister of this church, named Martine, and she knew we were coming for worship. When we arrived at what we thought was a respectable time before the service, the doors were still not open. Soon a young woman arrived, in a hurry, carrying a black robe slung over her arm. She was the minister of the church and she had the keys! She busily unlocked the doors and we entered a simple little sanctuary void of any of the opulence we had seen so far in many of the churches. But its simplicity and sweetness felt like a refuge that could hold us.

We sat down on the hard wooden benches as worship was about to begin. We were told that a young American woman who attends the church would be translating the scripture and the sermon for us. This young woman looked at us with both joy and a bit of apprehension. It is indeed a responsibility to, on the spot, translate the words of the minister. How much to include? What to focus on? What to leave out of the interpretation?

Our group had filled many of the pews. There was only a handful of ‘regulars’ to the church and this group included several from Cameroon, including three small children dressed in their Sunday best. Also in attendance were three people from France. Our minister right away had told us that ‘her English is not so good.’ Her words spoke truth but her face, her very presence, spoke welcome.

We listened to what must have been some kind of call to worship and a prayer. We sang, unaccompanied on any instrument, with Martine leading us in her strong alto. The first three hymns had tunes familiar but whose Italian words had us pulling on any Latin or Italian we had picked up in church or school choir. Our voices filled the room with strength and a certain spartan beauty.

But it was when we all sang together, ‘Amazing Grace’ that everything shifted in the room. It was so clear that Martine had chosen this familiar hymn to be an olive branch of hospitality and connection. And her instinct was a good one. In at least three languages we sang boldly and sure. “Amazing grace….how sweet the sound……”

And indeed it was. At that moment we sang and breathed as a community of faithful, all from different places with different experiences of life and the world. Though our languages were disparate, our hearts were joined as one. All the ways in which we may have come into the room divided fell away. We were a simple group of faithful held together in a simple place by an equally simple tune whose melody and words had, at some point in our living, been carved into our DNA.

As we heard the scripture read in both Italian and English, the story of Abraham and Sarah learning that they will have a child, Sarah’s laughter rang out. The message of God’s willingness to do new things, unimaginable things, was clear in both word and action. Where a community had existed, guests had been welcomed and for this particular Sunday in the course of the world, music had made something new of us all. As we greeted one another after the service, we learned that we are all celebrating similar things and equally struggling over others.

But for one suspended moment in time, we were all one through singing together. It truly was Amazing Grace……


Have More

“I waited in a world of magic
smells of good food, the street lamps, the
smoke coming from chimneys,
the candles burning in windows, the snow.
Angels feasted, as I did, on existence and God
kept saying, “Have more of what I made.”
~Catherine of Siena

In Florence yesterday, it was as if the Holy kept whispering in my ear….”Have more of what I made.” Over and over again, around every corner, down every street, in every face that approached, there was beauty. “Have more of what I made.” The smells of good food and the smiles on faces as they tasted the rich flavors of their gelato…..have more of what I made. The light falling on golden buildings creating sights that seemed to be paintings come alive as if by some spiritual force unknown, but seen. Art everywhere. Everywhere. Have more of what I made.

We began our morning gazing skyward at Michelangelo’s David. There are no words to describe the sheer presence and power of this sculpture. Leading up to the marble statue, there are other blocks of stone, unfinished pieces by this artist who lived to be 89 years old. Unheard of longevity for his time but it seems it would take more than a hundred lifetimes to produce the magnitude of art which he created. These blocks of stone represented his understanding that the statue, what was to be created, already existed in the stone. His work was to simply carve away what was not needed in order to reveal to the world what was hidden. This metaphor for our own lives was not lost on me. What must be chipped away in order to reveal what beauty is hidden in the soul?

The day was held in color and texture, in sight and smell and sound. Coming around one corner, we found ourselves on a piazza. People stood all around as a young woman, in jeans and a black t-shirt, held a microphone. Sitting nearby a young man sat with an accordion. Her gorgeous soprano floated out over the piazza, the opera that was born in the very air around becoming a presence in the open sky. The notes rose heavenward and as she finished the aria, our eyes glazed over with tears of gratitude and awe. So much beauty.

At day’s end, I reflected on the beauty that had been my food, literally and figuratively, during the day. The question became, ” Is it possible to have too much beauty?” Is it? I don’t believe so. I do think there comes a point at which one needs to step back, open your heart once again, and simply hold the beauty as it finds a home in you. I wondered, as I always do in such situations, if the people who make these places home begin to not notice, to take the beauty for granted, to not really see. I pray not.

Have more of what I made. Catherine of Siena is said to have placed these words in the mouth of the Sacred. Certainly that was my experience yesterday. It was as if all the beauty, all the goodness, all the possibility of human creation was spread like a feast before me. My only work was to pay attention, to notice, to be filled with wonder and to lift up my grateful heart.

And so I did.


Sounds of Silence

Yesterday I had the privilege of being in the presence of the Holy. In the scriptures, Elijah is called by God not through anything remarkable, like an earthquake, but through the sound of sheer silence. We often think of the Sacred’s presence as something large,perhaps get-your-attention loud, something that shakes us up and this can be true. But most often, I believe, that the connection with the One who breathed us into being comes in our quietest moments, in those times when the sounds of machines, motors and our ever busy minds grinds to a halt. This is what happened for me yesterday.

Far up the mountain in Cortona, Italy sits the Monastery of Le Celle, the place of the cells. This architectural gem is nestled in the terraced stones and vegetation is a place where St. Francis met and formed those who wished to follow in his footsteps. Walking inside the tiny chapel carved out of stone where he prayed, an almost instant calm washed over me. Behind the simple altar was the cell where he slept and lived out some of his days. Friars still live here and the gardens that feed them and their guests were ripe with vegetables and flowers. Signs in many languages reminded people of the importance of silence. And so we moved through doorways and over bridges in the silence that shaped, and shapes, the lives of these people given to simplicity and prayer.

Silence teaches us many things. Silence can bring us to the present moment. Silence can allow the sights before our eyes to be magnified, richer, more clear. Silence can allow us to hear and become aware of our own precious heartbeat. It can also allow us to be open to what might come across our path that can be teacher. Silence is the place where our creativity often has its beginnings, the place where an idea or a piece of art is born. In other words, silence is very important, vital.

These ancient followers of Francis and of the Way of Jesus understood deeply the power and the need for silence in our lives. This monastery, now tended by friars and others, continues to be a place where people come for retreat and prayer. It is a place to pull away from the sounds that want to capture our time and our energy. It is a place of exquisite beauty and immense peace.

Walking the damp and green path that led down from the monastery, I crouched in the woods under a tree which seemed ageless. I allowed the silence to envelope me in its wisdom and I rested. Rested from all I might have been worrying about. From all the troubles of the world. From my own self-doubt and short-comings. The silence became my teacher.

Sitting under the tree, I realized that while the silence may have captured my attention, the space where I rested was not completely silent. All around me the birds were singing and calling to one another. Their songs were clear and melodious and spoke of joy. I smiled. Francis would have been pleased, I think, to know that this 21st century woman was being serenaded by the winged ones he so adored, in whose presence he glimpsed the Face of God. Their song…..and his……gave me a peace that was rich and deep and full. And the joy that he knew so well became mine.

My gratitude is overflowing.



Devotion. Devotion is not a word that gets tossed about in my daily round. At least not in the sense that I have experienced it over the last few days. As we have made our way through several small Italian towns, I have been witness to and receiver of people whose lives are full of devotion. Many are devoted to hospitality, welcoming the many pilgrims that arrive in their midst, uninvited yet present. They can be seen preparing food, cleaning up, planting or tidying gardens to create a beauty that has times been overwhelming. There have been those who are devoted to caring for a sacred site, one that they had no part in creating, but are now apprenticed to the work of the welcoming those who have traveled great distances, some out of hope, others in longing, a few out of curiosity, many as a life-long dream. These devoted open doors, say words of welcome,care for ancient relics, held by the holy ones whose name now graces the entrance.
Over and over again I have seen it play out.

And then there are those whose devotion has brought them to these places. For many the stories told are fact. For others they are legend. For all there becomes a truth that goes deeper than reason or any pattern our minds might structure as truth. It is the deep knowing that we each experience when there is a connection that is made between our living and the movement of the Holy. Deep knowing that sometimes cannot be articulated and may even sound absurd to the casual by-stander. This does not negate the deep knowing. In most cases, it simply affirms it.

Yesterday as we walked the streets of Assisi, I saw stream after stream of devotion. Pilgrims from around the world walked in silence and knelt in prayer in places where St. Francis and St. Clare lived simple, devoted lives. Feeding the hungry. Healing the sick. Offering welcome to the stranger. Celebrating the goodness of all Creation. Their lives were real and their work was real. Today hundreds of thousands walk up steep hills and down uneven pathways to be witness to the lives they led and the hope they had for the world. As I walked about in the beauty and the simplicity, the grandeur and elegance, I thought about what they might have made of all this. Would they have been pleased? Or would they have been troubled by the large cathedrals that now carry their names? These simple, even austere faithful, who were more at home in earthy terrain and common company would no doubt be surprised at what has become of their life stories, their living.

These two saints which draw people to the landscape that shaped them spent their lives pointing people toward God. They did this through their actions and only sometimes their words. And yet people, the devoted, are still flocking to this hill town more than nine centuries later. This seems miraculous to me. Standing in lines, sometimes very long lines, to be able to pass by the resting place of both Francis and Clare, I walked in the silence of the devoted from countries all over the world. As we moved slowly surrounded by candlelight and frescoes telling out the scriptures, color dancing all around, I was drawn into the devotion and began to consider my own devotion. To what do I give it? How does that devotion shape my actions and my words?

Saint Francis wrote: “Such love does the sky now pour, that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home.”

May it be so.



Wolves. I am thinking of wolves. Walking in the footsteps of St. Francis in Italy today, we heard the story of Francis making friends with the wolf that plagued the small medieval village of Gubbio. Legend has it that the young monk learned that a wolf was terrorizing this beautiful little town, frightening people and killing other animals. Francis, being a lover of animals and an even greater lover of peace, walked up to the wolf and talked to it, telling it of his care and asking it not to harm and frighten again. It seems that Francis did something right because the wolf became a friend and never frightened the people again. Walking the twisting and turning cobblestone streets of this precious place, I could only imagine what might happen if a wild animal was believed to be lurking someplace around a corner. People would be on constant alert. Anxiety would rule. Irrational thoughts would begin to multiply. Mistrust would be the food of people’s daily living.

In preparation for this journey, I had been reading much about Francis and all the beautiful stories that surround the living of this 13th century person whose work was simplicity, goodness and the care and love of Creation. But it was another story of wolves that also captured my imagination. This Native American story is a cautionary tale of a wise one telling a person in distress that basically as humans we have two wolves that live inside us and they are always in battle with the other. One is the Wolf of Fear. The other is the Wolf of love. When the distressed person asks the wise one how do you know who will win the battle, the sage simply says, “Whichever one you feed.”

For me these two stories of this often misunderstood creature of the forest are good dance partners. Whether the story of Francis and the taming of the wolf is true or not, the message of the story is. As people in the village fed their fear, their lives were always perceived as in peril. No corner was approached without trepidation. No child was believed safe. No aged one could leave their house. The villagers were feeding the wolf of fear and as long as they did, they were already captive to the wolf.

But as Francis came along and chose instead to approach the wolf with love and understanding, things begun to change. The villagers began to loosen their grip on life and opened themselves to the beauty around them. They moved through slender alley ways and greeted their neighbors, soaked in the sunshine and enjoyed their children playing in the square. Instead of fear, the pomegranates and chestnuts so prominent in the area became the food that delighted. Once they stopped feeding the wolf of fear and instead, after Francis’s example, began to feed the wolf of love, everything changed.

A highlight of yesterday’s travels was meeting Father Francesco, an older monk whose work is to welcome pilgrims and worshipers to the tiny Church of the Vittorina. He greeted us with a smile and a presence that made us feel we had known him forever. As he shared the story of the art and all that had happened in this 9th century building, time stood still. The frescoes of stories from the scriptures shared space with the influence of the Romans who once made a home there. The walls revealed partial images of frescoes held beneath newer ones, shaken into the present by the earthquakes that are common in the area. Father Francesco stood calm and joyful among all this. Welcoming strangers. Being open to the beauty around him and holding the stories and history warmly together.

As we left his church and his presence one of our fellow pilgrims asked if he might bless us. And he did. While his words may have been foreign to us, the intention was clear. Father Francesco, like his namesake and the one whose work he continues, offered words and a sweet smile to which we all said “Amen”. He sent us on our way having fed the wolf of love within him and within each of us.