Maybe you've been to Assisi before; I never had, either. Sure, I've watched "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," but to be here, looking at a grove of olive trees that were supposedly planted by St. Clare; to walk down streets of a town whose inner walls haven't changed much since the 13th century; to taste the hot, honest air of a stone-paved piazza – this changes a person: both their vision, and their heart.
Michele and I trekked carefully up the baked pavement yesterday. Our hotel, the Umbra, is quite a ways up these crazy ascents, adjacent to the Piazza del Comune, just below the Cathedral of San Rufino.
Yes, there are churches to visit. But even before that, there is much to take in, much to absorb about this man Francesco and how his actions changed the course of the Church.
He started out in the military, yet soon renounced its power and its earthly might. He found it harder to distance himself from his family's wealth and the powerful orbit of his father, yet he walked away from that, too. And to complete a trinity of denial, he finally and utterly turned his back on ecclesial might, doing so in a gesture that left no room for misunderstanding: he simply disrobed before his bishop.
The stones of this town keep all these stories, I think. And, late at night, as you walk through Assisi, you can hear these stones, gently humming.
If Francis rejected a lot of things, he accepted as well. Legend has it that he accepted the trust of animals. And perhaps better than most human beings, he allowed the grace and beauty of creation – all of it, even death – to impact his soul. His kinship with Jesus was so strong, he allowed the wounds of his Savior to be seared upon his own body, too.
I am convinced, after walking around here a while, that the whole of creation has kept up Francis' song, long after he left this earth. It is a quiet song, one that can easily be threatened by other noises. But its melody in this little medieval hamlet is pervasive.
You can hear this song, swooping down, in the thousands of pixilated voices of the swallows. You can hear its humble thunder, in the footsteps of pilgrims – pilgrims beyond count – that quietly shuffle through the crypt which holds his tomb. You can hear its homespun lilt in the conversations of the nonas, closing up shop at the end of the day, or in the woman's voice, as she opens up her shutters above the street where you are walking, calling out to a neighbor in colorful Italian. You can hear it in the myriad church bells, announcing their duties every quarter hour.
And yes, you can hear its liturgical cadence as well, in the voices of Francis' sisters, the Poor Clares, just as we did when we joined them for Vespers.
It is the undeniable song of Assisi, and its melody continues, eight hundred years after a young man began his betrothal to a lady called poverty. No amount of "Pax et Bonum" ceramic kitsch can quell its theme, either. The song is everywhere.
Tonight, we let that song wash over our tired souls. This town has a song to offer. And we need to be attentive to its composer.
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Location:Via Macelli Vecchi,Assisi,Italy