Basilica of St Francis. Photo by Dennis Jarvis at Flickr

A man walks down the street
It’s a street in a strange world
Maybe it’s the third world
Maybe it’s his first time around
Doesn’t speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound, the sound
Cattle in the marketplace
Scatterings and orphanages
He looks around, around

He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says, “Amen! Hallelujah!”

• Paul Simon, You Can Call Me Al

• • •

When I was younger and new to the experience of visiting other parts of the world, traveling could be, and was often, an epiphany. An experience of transcendence. A journey through a door that awakened thoughts, senses, and feelings I never knew I had before. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Everything was different. I found myself stunned by the sensory blitzkrieg and then intoxicated in a kaleidoscope of strange wonder.

Now that I’m in another season of life, it’s more about savoring. It is about appreciating the world and the people I meet. It is about not expecting them to change me or me to change them, but for us merely to be with each other, in my place or theirs, sharing and cherishing what we have been given.

No longer making new roads, but finding and walking the ones made for us.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

• Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

17 thoughts on “Savoring

  1. I mostly agree with you, actually. I don’t think St. Francis had anything against beauty in worship, only in spending so much on ornamentation–although I think that the decoration speaks more to the desire of the worshipers than the intentions of St. Francis. Plainness is not necessarily an indication of virtue. Francis and the Franciscans may have been ascetics, but a hundred years after Francis, I doubt that it would have been possible to keep up his personal standards. I can’t help thinking that he would have preferred to spend the money on the poor, but I can’t help but admire that beautiful Basilica, either.


  2. Airline travel is an absolute drudgery nowadays. Between the overwrought security theater, the cr@ppy customer service, the tiny seats, the fights for overhead storage space, the death-by-a-thousand-additional-fees… If Amtrak weren’t a total kludge, I’d never fly if possible.


  3. when people did not ‘read’ and bibles were not in the vernacular and were not available to the common man,
    the Church told ‘the Story’ through the architecture, and the paintings, and the stained-glass portrayals of Christ and the Apostles, and through the water for baptism, and through the icons and the light of the candles, and the symbolic vestments of the clergy, and the TANGIBLE hands-on participation the common people were invited to participate in: the prayers, the kneeling, the beads, the Eucharist, the holy water, the ACTIONS of standing for the reading of the Holy Gospel, the sign-making of the Sign of the Cross . . . . the words of response in the liturgy, and yes, after a life-time of praying in Latin, you know that Pater Noster means ‘Our Father’ 🙂

    The beauty? yes, but in this art was a message to the people: a visual aid to their faith, and something more:
    SANCTUARY to come to for help, and HOLY GROUND to be buried in and a chance to be heard in confession and a chance to be helped by the last rites of the Church that call down the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the soul of the dying person through the crisis to the arms of Christ who receives him.

    Do you know that during the time of the Black Death plague, the Church lost almost 90 % of its clergy in Europe? They came out to those who were dying and ministered to them.

    Beauty? Some things about the Church are so beautiful that they take my breath away, and it is not necessarily the material items I am speaking of, no. Other times, we sinners get on each others’ nerves, being human and all, but that’s the Church, and we are a family after all.


  4. When I observe the lack of beauty in so many places of worship — the sloppiness, wires, speakers, stagecraft, poor examples of worship, non-existent liturgical values — plus the nondescript architecture, then it does me good to see that many years before our existence that a sense of the magnificent helped define the Church. Maybe the people needed beauty as well as bread.


  5. 14 days round trip to South Hampton; $2300 –

    I wonder how much weight I would gain on a 14 day cruise


  6. On the other hand, Francis heard God tell him to “build My church” – which Francis thought meant the tiny Porziuncola that is now inside a basilica on the edge of Assisi. So he gathered building materials and put the run-down chapel back together. The walls are rather plain, but it has a beautiful, colorful altarpiece from less than 100 years after Francis died. And Francis went to Rome to get permission from the Pope to found his Order; as far as I know he didn’t tell the Pope to get rid of all the ornamentation in the churches. I don’t think he was repudiating beauty or ornament in church; I’m not aware of anything he said or wrote to indicate that. His poverty was voluntary and personal. He didn’t enjoin it on anyone who wasn’t interested in being part of the Order, though he knew and preached that it would be good for Christians if they practiced it – just as St Basil wrote that if you hold on to more than you need, you’re a thief because you’re withholding from those in true poverty.

    Ornamentation in churches has been a subject of contention since even before the Reformation. Some thinkers have drawn a line from the Islamic view of images as idolatry to all kinds of iconoclasm, even that of the Reformation. Lack of ornamentation in a church building is not necessarily an indication of the virtue of the people who meet therein. Even when I was a non-sacramental Protestant I believed that.



  7. Sadly, my desire to visit Europe is outvoted by my desire to never sit on an airplane for 8 hrs straight. I just can’t. I’m a big man and plane rides have always been Very uncomfortable because I can’t afford First Class. Otherwise, I’d love to go.


  8. That’s an incredibly, beautifully lavish place to be dedicated to a man devoted to poverty. I can’t think that St. Francis would be pleased.


  9. I was telling someone the other day that I am really liking this period of my life (I’m 59). It has some serious stresses, no doubt but still seems much less stressful than earlier decades because I am more able to ease in to things with less drama and less fear. I think your overseas travel is probably indicative of how life is at home as well but the travel brings things into focus in a fresh way. Love those lyrics!


  10. “It is about not expecting them to change me or me to change them, but for us merely to be with each other, in my place or theirs, sharing and cherishing what we have been given.”

    if our fundamentalist-evangelical brothers and sisters saw ‘the others’ with this kind of respect for their dignity as human persons, the Church would be so much better off as an instrument of healing and bringing ‘shalom’


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