There is a stunning view of Umbrian olive trees, vineyards, and rolling hills fifty yards from my apartment. When admired by night, the landscape twinkles. About fifteen kilometers away Nestled in a low crest of the tallest mountain, a group of electric stars shine higher and brighter than the surrounding lights. Though millions of people visit it every year, it’s a small village holding a population several times less than its crowded medieval days. It is a quaint town of narrow roads, charming shops, and one stunning Basilica. The town is, of course, Assisi, the home of Francesco and Chiara, founders of the Franciscan Order.
Yesterday, a few friends and I ventured a twenty minute train ride to Assisi for our first day trip excursion. In preparation for my time abroad, I bought Rick Steve’s Italy 2013 Guidebook. When I flipped through it, I wasn’t too impressed. Perugia isn’t even mentioned in it. But, my views have changed; Rick gave us all the information I could want (and no more) on his self-guided – and more importantly, downhill – walking tour of Assisi. If you have someone like Rick, I’ve found that, contrary to my tendencies to plan, often times the best trips happen when you don’t have everything figured out. I had a train ticket, some companions, a few Euro, and nothing more. I learned a ton about St. Francis and was blown away both by his piety and the basilica built in his honor. It was a great day.
From the stazione, we took a bus to the top of the town, following Rick’s suggestions to check out the Roman amphitheater, a few worth-it views, and several churches and cathedrals. I like following directions and solving problems, and leading others, so I had a blast. The guidebook literally said things like, From the bottom of the stairs, head to the left and continue downhill. I did, and boom, there is the basilica di Santa Chiara. It was like a treasure hunt, which you know I love.
The Basilica was stunning and worth going to visit, as is Santa Maria degli Angeli on the outskirts of town. More than the buildings, two things hit home for me the most.
First, Francis obediently followed the Lord’s commands. After a lot of fasting and praying, he had a vision in which Christ said, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”And then he did it. He lived a life of obedience, chastity, and poverty. He preached the Gospel and his influence to reform the Catholic Church probably postponed the Protestant Reformation by a century. He was excited about the Gospel, and he made a lot of other people reevaluate their faith. Both he and Clare were well off citizens of Assisi who renounced their wealth and clung to their God. Christ’s church is in a new state of falling into ruin, and I don’t think I’m doing all that much about it. Nor do I really know what to do. When Euros produce food (and disappear quickly), I struggle with how to honor God with the circumstances and money He has given me. Most of the time I’m living for me, but I don’t really know what else to do.
Second, there were so many people worshiping in the Basilica. I felt much more like a tourist than a worshiper yesterday, but that was not the case for other visitors. An incredible movement sprouted in Assisi, and though much of Europe is spiritually dry today, Italy has genuine Christian roots. It founded the faith and spread it to the rest of the world. There is something really monumental and intimate about being here in person, so I’m hoping to return as a worshiper while I’m here.
One final thought. I’m beginning to settle in and figure things out. I am also learning I can’t go all the time. I wanted to see a music festival last night (I couldn’t figure out how to get there) and the Saturday market this morning (I blogged), and neither of those happened. Rest is good, and it’s okay to stay in the apartment and reflect a bit. So, as usual, I’m searching for the balance. The balance between a good time out and honoring God, between rest and travel, between time alone and time with others. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don’t.