Rome ~ Layers Like Lasagna

There are layers of history in Rome—“layers like lasagna”—one tour guide suggested. Literally, layers were built on top of layers, buildings that had been destroyed by war and natural disaster were covered with dirt and new buildings were erected over ruins. Symbolically, many Christian churches were built over ancient pagan sites.

The architecture, art, and religious history communicate something spiritual, a deeper story with layers of meaning, like lasagna. I’ll share some of my favorite places, and the journey, from my trip to Rome to attend the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates:

St. Peter’s Basilica and the Scavi tour

On my first morning in Rome, I had scheduled a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Scavi tour of the necropolis beneath, including St. Peter’s tomb. My plan was to have a taxi drop me off where I needed to be to start the tour for a stress-free morning, no need for coat and umbrella, and no need to hurry. Where I thought I could find a taxi, there were none; where a distracted police officer pointed, there were none. A little nervous, I decided I should just start walking in the general direction of the Vatican or I may not get there in time. Surely, I would see the large dome and signs along the way. There were none.

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I remember that the Vatican was just to the left of the Tiber River as it changes directions. With this vague idea, I set off on a lovely tree-lined path along the Tiber River. The views were beautiful—this will be just fine, I say to myself, I have plenty of time.Getting a little chilly, but I’ll be there soon. The online map said a 45-minute walk. Oops, a few sprinkles, a few more. Darn it, why didn’t I bring the umbrella I had packed?

 I reach the point where the Vatican should be but I see no less than six different options to take; I see no dome and no signs. In panic mode now, with it getting colder and sprinkling more, I ask a woman, “Where is the Vatican?”  Mind you, I had asked one young couple who responded, “In hurry, no time” and another woman who circled herself saying, “hmmm” whom I decided not to trust for accurate directions, but this woman—she is my angel. “No English. I take you,” she said. Oh, thank God.

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She takes me a few blocks to the intersection where I finally see St. Peter’s Basilica (and its dome. Who knew the Vatican was surrounded by other tall buildings? Not what I had pictured.) I have finally arrived, yet I still need to walk several blocks in light rainfall, so I duck into a little storefront outside of St. Peter’s Square and buy an umbrella. Better safe, than sorry, I think.

Thirty seconds later, new umbrella overhead, I experienced the hardest rainfall I’ve ever walked in (outside of the time I got lost in Munich, Germany …. hmmm, seems to be an international pattern). I arrive at the gate of the Swiss Guard in plenty of time to stand in the cold and rain for at least 30 more minutes before the tour began. Still, I am grateful I walked. I learned, and saw, much more than I would have had I been delivered directly to St. Peter’s Square. There are layers of meaning when you surrender to the journey. 

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The tour was quite amazing, but I was most struck by the case the guide built throughout the tour that the Basilica was indeed constructed over St. Peter’s tomb. The area beneath St. Peter’s Basilica was only discovered in the 1940s and during excavation, archaeologists found a 4th-century burial ground and a grave marked with ancient lettering translated, “Peter is here”.  I was so touched by the reverence our guide showed letting each individual participant have a few moments to privately view the site. It was a moment for the heart to remember only; no photos were permitted on the tour. Nearby the guide pointed out an elaborate grate in the ceiling—directly above, one could hear the prayers and responses of a Mass in progress in the Basilica. For centuries, what laid below was hidden. This faith, built on a grave, has layers of meaning, like lasagna.

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I had plenty of time to explore the Basilica and its side chapels in quiet solitude when I went on my own, but on the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates group tour we learned some of the symbolism behind the artwork, altars, and relics from a guide. I learned the bronze statue of St. Peter holding the keys of heaven was a pilgrimage itself—for centuries pilgrims touched or kissed his right foot, literally wearing it thin, to receive a blessing from the Church’s first Pope, hoping the gates of heaven would be opened for them. This Catholic faith holds so many beautiful rituals with layers of meaning. Layers, like lasagna.

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Aventine Hill, One of the Seven Hills of Rome

Before going to the conference center, I stayed two nights at a monastery at the bottom of Aventine Hill, chosen to be near Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino, the monastery of Fr. Mauritius Wilde. Located in a surprisingly residential area near the Coliseum, I favored the solitude and quiet of the crooked, narrow street lined with gardens, parks and ancient churches to the bustle and crowds of St. Peter’s Basilica.

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On the leisurely journey up the hill to visit Fr. Mauritius, I visited the Basilica of Santa Sabina, the oldest Roman Basilica built between 422 and 432, where Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday.  Traditionally, the Pope begins the celebration at Sant’ Anselmo’s, walking on foot from one basilica to another, to celebrate the beginning of Lent. Further up the hill, I visited Santi Bonifacio and ­­­Santa Prisca, as well as a park that overlooked the center of Rome, and the famous Knights of Malta Keyhole that outlines a view of St. Peter’s perfectly.

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It was a delight to see Fr. Mauritius, who moved to Rome after serving as Prior for six years at Schuyler’s Christ the King Priory. After a behind-the-scenes tour of the academic center, monastery, chapel and grounds, we enjoyed conversation on the patio. I had kept in touch with Fr. Mauritius since his move the year before, but this revealed another layer, like lasagna. There is a contentment knowing just where my friend’s home is, to know where he works and prays.

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St. Benedict’s cell at San Benedetto and Montecassino Abbey

Both destinations were a highlight of sacred sites visited—first, the cell of St. Benedict while he studied in Rome (about the year 500) before founding his first monastery in Subiaco. The cell, or small room, has been preserved; a small chapel adjacent, San Benedetto in Piscinula, dates back to the 12th century. I loved, LOVED, loved this special place. I could have stayed there for hours. To know that St. Benedict listened “with the ear of his heart” in this very place, rejecting the political corruption of Rome and what was expected of him, to pursue the call he knew was from God—well, for a Benedictine Oblate, this is a moment. Had I not been in a group with a full sight-seeing schedule, I would have likely spent a half-day in contemplation at this chapel.

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After a beautiful drive in the countryside east of Rome, we arrived at the Abbey of Montecassino where St. Benedict wrote his Rule. We were welcomed, after a foggy drive up the mountain, by clear skies and a heartfelt blessing at Mass—“This is your house as Benedictines,” the priest said, “St. Benedict welcomes you, hugs you, blesses you.” After Mass, we visited the original part of the Abbey, dating back to the 5th century, which had not been destroyed during World War II. This was another profound experience—to be in the place where the Rule of St. Benedict, a guide for monastics and oblates for over 1500 years, was penned. Later we met a gentleman who, as a little boy, had taken refuge with his family at the Abbey during the War, hoping to be safe with the monks high on the mountain. How devastating war is, how many layers there are—for this young boy and his family, the nearby town and, ultimately, the Abbey, bombed in the Battle of Monte Cassino. There are no winners in war.

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Place is a powerful thing

It gives us perspective, a sense of where we’ve come from and how we’ve gotten here. The Christian story unfolded in this place of Rome. I am so grateful to have experienced this place of Peter and Paul, the places of St. Benedict and so many other holy places.

But I remember that home is holy too.

Home is where I work out the tension between stability and conversion. Home is where I listen to the ear of my heart. Home is the most important place; it is our present moment. Home is the people you surround yourself with, our friends and family. Our story unfolds at home. This is where we uncover our many layers, like lasagna.

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My first meal in Rome–lasagna!

Parker Palmer for President: The only political post I will ever make

How do we “ward off the buffoonery and blathering, the racism and sexism and homophobia, the distortions and demonizing, the rhetorical cruelty, the cover-ups, the abysmal ignorance and flat-out lies that suck the marrow from our souls as the 2016 presidential marathon gains momentum”? -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”

Seriously, how do we??

I want to be an informed voter, to be aware of what’s happening in our country and to understand what the Presidential candidates hope to accomplish. But I just don’t know who or what to believe.

How can so many candidates believe they have the Absolute Truth and the One and Only Answer to all of our country’s problem? How can each of them be right and all the others be wrong? Why do hostility, distrust and self-righteousness have to be the status quo for election years?

As the media and candidates spin their stories, I sit and spin (remember those?) and I’m sit and spindizzy. It makes one want to “hole up for the duration”; to turn off the news and hide every Facebook post that is political. There are some candidates or issues that bring a visceral response—my stomach hurts, my heart beats faster, I get tempted to respond or post my own political comments (likely, equally as uninformed as the post that pissed me off).

So why do I put myself through it? Why did I stay up late to see that, ultimately, a coin toss could determine who would be the Democratic “winner” of the Iowa caucuses? Why do I engage in political conversations that cause discomfort?

I have never been very political.  I would prefer to steer away from political conversations, even with issues I agree. Too often I find myself being the devil’s advocate because, well, that side needs defending too, right? Or I get so wound up (the sit and spin effect) because I know it’s not really a listening-kind-of conversation, but a trying-to-convince-me-of-something conversation. Political conversations seem so hopeless and people become so divided.spinning out of controlAB.jpg

I don’t like disagreement. I don’t like conflict. I want everyone to get along. But I know that I contribute to this conflict as much as I want to avoid it. I have my opinions that I think are right just as much as the person who believes strongly in something different. But having a daughter with a Political Science major and a husband who loves 24/7 news does not allow me to escape the political scene.

Escape is not really a good option anyway: I want to be politically and socially aware, to be able to have an intelligent conversation and an opinion about the issues and candidates that impact our future.

“Though much of our political discourse is toxic, “politics” itself is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.” -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”

Election years do feel toxic. It feels like there isn’t a lot of community that is created (except with people who are already like-minded). Community implies cooperation with those not necessarily like us, to “come together across our differences”.  But it feels like there isn’t a lot of listening. There is more holding to an opinion, standing our ground on what we think “makes America great” (even though we don’t know what that means and the candidates don’t tell us what they will do to get us there either).

revolution.

“We need a revolution of tenderness.” –Pope Francis

We need “a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.” –Senator Bernie Sanders

The word that has resonated with me during these past few months is “revolution”.  It has come from the mouth of Pope Francis and from Senator Bernie Sanders. In both situations it is a call for desperate measures, a radical change in the way things are being done and the way we treat each other.

Pope emojiPlease do not mistake me for putting Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders, or any political candidate, in the same category.  Anyone who knows me knows Pope Francis wins any contest hands down (I have Pope emojis, case closed), but it’s the word “revolution” that has me thinking.  Perhaps we all have a sense when things aren’t working, when we need to try something different.

So what can we do to bring about a revolution of tenderness during this election year when it is all too easy to see what divides us, to dwell on the differences?

Parker Palmer, in his article Breathing New Life into “We the People”, makes some excellent suggestions for managing the political angst of an election year.

    1. Value our differences:Only through the creative conflict of ideas has the human race ever accomplished great things.
    2. Listen for the long haul: Holding your differences with others in a way that can sustain dialogue over time, giving everyone a chance to speak, listen, and learn.
    3. Listen for understanding: “The more you know about other people’s stories, the harder it is to dislike, distrust, or demonize them.”
    4. Honor diversity: “Not only visible diversity but the invisible forms of “otherness” (from political persuasions to sexual orientations) that exist among people who look alike.”
    5. Act with hospitality: We have the power to resist the culture of hostility that’s gutting American politics — to act daily in ways that foster a culture of hospitality…”

*all quotes above from Palmer article 

Palmer is a Quaker, but this all sounds very Benedictine.  St. Benedict, in his Rule, states “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.” (RSB: 53) Treating others as Christ takes intention.

So my goal for this election season is to be a little more Benedictine: to try a little tenderness; to be more hospitable, to be a little more tolerant of opinions different than my own.  To have more conversations where I simply listen; to be less judgmental; to try to understand why others believe or vote the way they do.  I am not an expert (on hardly anything, let alone politics) and I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn about treating others as Christ.

Having an attitude of tenderness and hospitality may be the only thing that can bring a revolution within, in this country or this world. As Palmer states, “Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility.”  I will do my part.

If you are interested in topics of tolerance, hospitality, listening and self-righteousness according to the Rule of St. Benedict, I encourage you to listen to the podcasts listed below. Kris McGregor of Discerning Hearts interviews Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB, PhD, Prior of Christ the King Monastery in Schuyler, Nebraska on Benedictine spirituality. I highly recommend!

HR#6 “In place of provincialism, respect and tolerance” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB

HR#11 “Instead of circling around one’s self, hospitality” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB

HR#13 “In place of self-righteousness…seeking God” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

HR#17 “The Value of Listening and Silence” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

DiversityA

Card name: Diversity, It Takes All KindsParker Palmer

More from Parker Palmer:  Chutzpah and Humility: Five Habits of the Heart for Democracy in America

 ….and a little more from Parker Palmer! I was tickled to hear from him on Facebook in response to this blog post.

Decluttering: Taking Off The Top Layer

We’ve taken off the top layer of knick-knacks, wall hangings and books—twenty years of pictures of Jessica growing up, snapshots of vacations, dozens of refrigerator magnets holding senior pictures, expired coupons, newspaper clippings and birth announcements—and loaded up two trailers-worth of boxes and furniture that we can live without for a while (and perhaps longer).  The stuff that we can live without has gone to a better home. Continue reading “Decluttering: Taking Off The Top Layer”

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