Wednesday, April 17, 2013

St. Francis of Assisi and I go soul to soul.........

St. Francis - my guy

I've had this secret crush. I met him a few years ago.   The introduction was so mystical and unforgettable, in all honesty, it didn’t occur to me until later that our connection was one of those rare, ethereal soulmate hook-ups.  Call it a past life, or alternate universe experience, I can honestly say I have never fallen so madly in love with someone I never met. Our introduction touched parts of my soul with an unspoken magic that moved me to tears.  Maybe that’s what true love is all about.  Something far beyond physical chemistry; a deeper, inner knowing that this experience/individual  is happening for you, and to you....  breaking down the barriers and defects of the ego and teaching you things you’ve waited your whole life to learn.  They say God shows up in ways in which we will recognize Him.  I needed this mystery man to arrive, leading me to a greater understanding of the bottomless well of spirituality I was so frantically seeking then.  Ready to throw off the limitations of fear based doctrine, and the five senses, believing in my heart of hearts, there is so much more to this boundless Universe; both playground and school to all of creation. I was also slow-cooking, in a thick, tasteless, stew of regret and self-flagellation; needing to forgive (myself first and then a laundry list of others)  so I could dance in the playground again.   God knew I was ready and He sent me to Italy.   

The Pieta
A two month trip through Italy and southern France took me to some of the most noted religious spots in Europe as well as the privilege of feasting my eyes on Art created for God’s pleasure... or the current ruler of the day.  By the end of our Italian sojourn, we joked that we were ready to venture away from some of the religious Art and the myriad of “ugly baby Jesus” pictures.  Some artists must have been trying to score brownie points as they painted a grown man’s face; a dictator, Pope, or even their own, on a soft, pink, dimpled baby body. Frightening.  The churches in Rome, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel were greeted with wide-eyed wonder as visions swirled of ancient times.  I have a relatively active imagination, and was capable of re-creating  the history in my head, as I stood before many of the saints, great thinkers, and artists tombs;  St. Peter, Michelangelo, Dante, Galileo, Raphael and so many more.   St. Peter’s Basilica alone is a hot bed of spiritual energy, a papal resting place, and vibrant history dances through all its sculpture and artwork.  The Pieta could bring even an atheist to tears, in its depiction of the unimaginable sorrow of a mother, cradling and grieving the lifeless body of her Son.

All of it, relayed a story to my curious mind, engaged and awed me.    Yet, when I returned home and was asked what my favorite place was during this once in a lifetime trip, I had to respond, visiting the crypt of St. Francis of Assisi.  My experience there was so much more than imagination and personal storytelling originating in my head. It was visceral, perceived in my heart and every fiber of my being. It was here, I now know, everything for me, began to change.  Spiritually, nothing would ever be the same again.  It was here, I began to learn to stop minimizing my intuition.  I discovered it was as important as the other five senses. 

Visiting Assisi, I had no expectations, and don’t even know if I was consciously aware St. Francis’ remains were cloistered away beneath the massive Basilica of San Francesco.  I wasn’t particularly intrigued by St. Francis, or even necessarily a devotee of any of the saints.  I knew next to nothing about his life. I knew he graced many gardens, his concrete form enticing the birds to land on this lover of animals and the poor.   I had no idea he came from a wealthy family and had a colorful past as a self-indulgent womanizer, drinker, and party dude. A sinner for sure, apparently redeemed in several conversion experiences.  Nonetheless, I was excited to visit this massive church.  

St. Francis crypt
The cathedral was beautiful and reverently still, even though it was teaming with tourists.  Nestled deep in the bowels of the church lies his crypt.  As I walked down into the cavernous hallways of the church, I began to feel enveloped in peace.  With every step I took it deepened, like a fog thickening around me, seeping into every pore in my body. The sensation, I can now relate, felt very similar to a meditation session, consciously breathing relaxation into each part of the body.  Only this shroud of peace wasn’t a conscious act, nor did I have to work at it.   Rounding the corner into a small chapel, I stopped, awestruck by the earthiness of the surroundings.  What was it about this simple sanctuary, housing the remains of St. Francis, that drew me magnetically inside to a seat on the humble, carved, wooden pews.  The room was cool and the lighting was dim. My eyes were riveted to the circular, stone altar straight ahead, candles burning brightly, inviting my heart to open up and let the light enter.  Five minutes seated in the pew, silently praying a prayer I had never prayed before, I asked for St. Francis kindness and understanding to envelope me.  I asked for my heart to open to the possibility of forgiveness and putting it to rest. I asked him to be an emissary to God and requested unconditional love. I asked for direction for my life.  A warmth radiated from the center of my chest and my body couldn’t sit any longer. I moved towards the circular altar, feeling a pulse of energy emanating from the stone and put my hand out, open palm, ready to receive.  As I slowly moved around the structure, my body bathed in energy, I could see St. Francis, his uncannily familiar face, eyes gentle, but a mischievous grin dancing on his lips.  He raised his hands to bless me and then reached out with one, and touched the open palm of mine reaching towards the burial shrine, as if the contact would feel familiar, and I would then remember.  Droplets of tears slid down my cheeks in recollection and gratitude.   I was forgiven.  I am not perfect.  I made a mistake.  I’d made many of mistakes.  But, I am not a mistake.  My soul not only heard this, but gratefully received that grace.  I heard that I need to listen with that same soul and my heart from now on. I heard that redemption is always possible... Witness St. Francis' life. 

The connection to him and this experience has remained with me. Did St. Francis and I party together in a past life when he was just Francesco? He was a bad boy in his younger days.  I was a wild child. We had a lot in common, something I wasn’t aware of until I returned home and read his biography.  Or, is it just we are all eternally connected, and sometimes, we don’t even need to ask for a miracle.  Maybe it’s as simple and easy as  being in the right place, at the right time. I know if I want to fully experience the majesty and limitless power of God, I have to at least be open, get rid of the closed mind, and clear a pathway to my heart.  This time I unconsciously chose to observe through the eyes of intuition and was blessed to receive a mystical moment that has changed my idea of spirituality forever. 

God does answer our prayers... sometimes through a centuries old sinner, turned Saint.  

Afterthoughts:  Five years later, I still dream of my affair to remember with St. Francis. I'm convinced we've been soulmates lifetimes ago.   I have to confess... He now does have competition. I find I am strangely drawn to the new Pope Francis.  When I see him in the media, I feel the same connection and familiarity I felt on that summer day in Assisi.  What is it about my attraction to these Francis’?  Who wouldn't be attracted to all of that genuine humility and  palpable empathy?  There are worse things than to be in love with a Saint and a Pope.