Tag Archives: awareness

Puccini’s hometown

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), was born in Lucca and spent a substantial part of his life there.

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Statue of Giacomo Puccini in front of the Puccini Museum

In a joint venture between art students and professional artists, twelve store shutters were painted with the women of Puccini’s operas.

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Unfortunately, the exhibit was not meant to be permanent and some of the shutters have been painted over, but here are the ones I noticed as I walked the streets of Lucca.

Walled cities

I am drawn to walled cities.

I first became aware of this attraction when I visited Krakow, Poland, thirteen years ago and stayed inside the walls. Even though the walls are no longer intact, a park surrounds the Old City and marks where the walls had once been. I felt safe being inside the Old City.

On my second visit to Krakow a year later, I stayed outside the walls. Every morning, I crossed over into the Old City, and something about being inside the walls felt secure to me.

A few years later, a friend visited Carcassone, a walled city in France, and sent me videos. As soon as I saw the videos, I knew I wanted to visit. It took a few years, but I went last spring, and I specifically chose to travel with Overseas Adventure Travels (O.A.T.) because they offered the opportunity to stay inside the walls of Carcassone.

The tour started further north, though, in Angers, another city with walls. Once again, I felt drawn to being within the walls. When we got to Carcassone, I felt completely at home within the walls.

Last month, I visited Avignon, another walled city, and I again found myself drawn to the inside.

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Avignon, France

And then last week, I visited Italy and spent a few days in Lucca, a walled city in Tuscany.

The walls around Lucca are intact and the top of the wall is a wide path where people walk, run or bike. I walked the path several times during my stay, enjoying the views of the Old City below.

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One of the gates into the walled city of Lucca, named after St. Donato
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Inside the gate, I came across this fireplace and painting.

Not only is Lucca surrounded by a wall, but beyond the walls are mountains, creating the impression of a double boundary.

What is it that draws me to these enclosed places?

Walking the path on the walls of Lucca one day, I pondered the mystery of my attraction to walled cities, and I thought about growing up in Detroit.

Detroit is anything but walled, but there were certain streets which I never crossed. I stayed within the confines of an area around my house, never venturing beyond Woodward Avenue or Eight Mile Road. Without being told to, I had created my own walls.

Awareness brings an invitation, and my awareness of being drawn to walled cities and of creating physical boundaries, makes me think about other walls I have built—not necessarily physical walls but any kind of boundary that gives me a sense of security.

I find myself asking if my walls are a matter of security or a limitation, and if I being invited to step out from beyond the walls and take a chance on what is on the other side.

We are only as sick as our secrets

Secrets have been on my mind for the past year, ever since my mother revealed a secret she had been keeping for almost fifty years—which sparked my own awareness of a secret I had been keeping even longer.

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Since then, I seem to be very aware of others’ secrets and how often people shade the truth or tell half-truths to frame things in a different light.

For example, I recently attended a talk about Etty Hillesum, a woman who lived in Amsterdam during World War II. The speaker talked of Etty’s affair with her professor but failed to mention that Etty had had an abortion. I wondered why. Etty wrote about the abortion; it was not a secret, yet this person recalling Etty’s life left out this detail.

Was she trying to protect Etty by not talking about the abortion? Did she have feelings of shame around abortion that led her to omit it? This presentation was at a Catholic retreat center, and I wondered if the setting and the audience prompted this omission. But why did she include the details of the affair? It was all a mystery to me.  

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Secrets abound in the British detective tv shows I watch. Often, some secret is being kept which is key to solving the mystery.  “Why didn’t you tell us?” the detective asks in exasperation when the secret finally comes out. The detective doesn’t care that the grandfather had a child with the maid or that the mother had a wild past or that the children have squandered their inheritance. The detective just wants the facts and not an edited version of history.

It seems that we can be our own worst judges when it comes to our secrets, believing that the worst will happen if our secrets are revealed.

The truth is that we are the same people we were before our secrets were revealed, and those who love us will continue to love us once they know our secrets.

People may be surprised or even shocked to learn of some traumatic event in our past. They may have to adjust their image of us. They may review the relationship in light of new information, but if they really love us, they will get over their shock and adjust their image. They will remember that we are the same person we were before they knew our secrets.

I have always been open about being a rape survivor, but not everyone in my life knows about it, mostly because it does not come up in everyday conversation and because I have moved around a lot. The “getting to know you” phase of new friendships don’t usually include talk of rape or other traumas, so while my history is not a secret for me, it usually doesn’t come up until a relationship is established.

My goal is to have nothing to fear, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. I desire to live transparently, holding nothing back and keeping no secrets.

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Lent reimagined

I have lived through many Lents, and I have my usual ways of observing the season, focusing less on giving up something and more on doing something different.

This Lent, I read of two Lenten observances that were new takes on Lenten practices.

The first was a walking Lenten observance. Since I love to walk—both for exercise and as a meditative practice—this suggestion appealed to me. It came from a Lenten blog called Walking the Path of Lent with Friends which offers different ways to walk through Lent.

One suggestion was to walk with Jesus—that is, to walk 90 miles, the distance Jesus walked from Nazareth to Jerusalem. The idea of intentionally calling upon Jesus to walk with me during Lent intrigued me, and so I began inviting Jesus to walk with me on my daily walks. I tried to look at my surroundings through Jesus’ eyes, to view my neighbors and nature as Jesus might see them.  

Almost immediately, I was aware that my walks are all circular—I start and end at my house— while Jesus was walking toward a destination, so I adjusted my idea of walking to think more of the path I am walking, because my path has a greater possibility of forward movement, of going somewhere.

What path am I walking? Where is Jesus leading me?

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Then I read an article by Brother Tom Smyth, CFC.  He writes:

This past Lent I decided on a different approach; focusing on my gifts rather than my failings.

About a week into Lent, and after some reflection, I identified a number of gifts that I feel I have and printed them up on 8” x 4” placards. I taped them on the wall, in a circle around the crucifix. Putting them there helped keep me focused on why I was doing this, to recognize the abundance in my life that has come through God’s gifts. A few weeks further into Lent, I came across some files containing worksheets from vocation meetings….Instead of identifying the gifts we saw in ourselves, participants identified the gifts they saw in others. I added those gifts to those I had placed around the crucifix. It was powerful, not just to read what others had seen in me, but to recognize that God has truly gifted me, in abundance…After considerable time in reflection, I realized that there is a whole other side to this gift thing. It’s the why. Why has God been so generous to me? My response became, “It hasn’t been for me; we are gifted for others.” We are called to use our gifts in the service of others. The abundance is given to us so that it can be shared.

I like the suggestion of naming my gifts and displaying them. Also, the idea of being gifted for others has been a recurring theme in my prayer. God gives abundantly for us to share abundantly. How am I gifted for others?

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Where is Lent taking you?

Speaking of miracles

One year on my annual silent retreat, I shared with my spiritual director a memory that surfaced during my prayer time. He suggested that memories often hold invitations for some new insight or understanding, and he encouraged me to spend some time with the memory to see if I could learn something new.

Since then, I have tried to pay closer attention as memories surface. I often write to the person in the memory—even just a note to say, “I am thinking of you”—and I try to keep the memory present to see if it is offering some insight or invitation.

Over the years, I have come to see a similar invitation when random conversations or events happen more than once in a short period of time. This past week was such a week—three times, I found myself talking about miracles.

I believe miracles happen, but I don’t often think about them or talk about them. Yet, three times in one week…I decided I needed to pay attention.

While pondering these conversations about miracles, a woman I once lived with came to mind.

Her name is Catherine, and we lived in a housing coop designed to bring together people who have developmental disabilities with those who don’t. Catherine was in her thirties, and she relied on others to meet her basic needs. She lived on the first floor of a large house with a couple who saw to her daily needs, and I lived in an upstairs apartment.

A year or so after I had moved out of Catherine’s house (and to another state), I attended a healing service at a local church. I wasn’t looking for healing for myself but went more to support the person who had organized this event.

During the service, we were all invited to come forward to be prayed over. The presider said that even if we were unaware of where we might need healing, we were welcome to come forward. Or, he said, we could call to mind someone else who needed healing and think of that person as we were prayed over.

Just then, Catherine came to mind. I hadn’t been in touch for months, so I did not know if she was actually sick, but I walked forward thinking of her.

A few months after that prayer service, I was talking with Catherine’s mom, and she told me Catherine had been in hospital for an extended period and no treatment seemed to be helping her get better; they believed she was going to die. And then, miraculously, she said, Catherine got better.

I remembered the healing service from a few months earlier and asked when this had been.

Catherine’s mom remembered the exact date because the change in Catherine’s condition occurred in an instant—it was the same time I was thinking of Catherine and being prayed over.

I don’t know why these conversations about miracles occurred, but I am grateful for the reminder that miracles do happen.

In some other place

The trip seemed so far away

when I booked it.

Time seems to have a way of moving at its own pace,

sometimes too fast and

sometimes too slow.

The mindfulness people tell us that

today is all we have,

and I know what they mean,

but I like to have things to anticipate,

plans and dreams.

I suppose I live in the future,

creating my packing list,

immersed in my daydreams and guidebooks,

imagining myself in some other place,

on the other side of the ocean,

visiting museums and historic spots,

being in buildings erected

before the first ship sailed west.

It seemed so far away

when this trip was just a dream,

and now it is here.

Silver linings

Joy is a sign of a generous personality, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Since the pandemic began a year and a half ago, I have been on the look-out for “silver linings,” those unanticipated good news moments. (It must be my tendency toward optimism!)

Anyway, due to some odd things that happened in my old church during the pandemic, I started thinking about looking for a new church. I have been going to my old church for seven years, and I tend to feel a sense of loyalty to my parish, but last weekend, I visited a new church.

There I sat in this new church, surrounded by strangers, observing how things are done here.

The first thing I noticed was the music. There were several people leading the singing and in addition to the pianist and guitarist, there was also a flautist and a violinist. The sound was rich, and it pulled me into a sense of community worship.

At the beginning of Mass, the priest called the children up front for children’s liturgy, and about a dozen children happily approached. He said a few words to them and then began singing, “If you’re happy and you know it….” The kids and the congregation joined in, singing and clapping their hands. The priest added a silly bit, and everyone laughed.

And then I realized I was feeling something I hadn’t felt in church for a while—I was feeling joy.

As Mass went on, the sense of joy continued. Two children were baptized during Mass, and I found myself smiling, happy for these two young families and their extended families.

The priest included the congregation in his sermon by asking questions, and he called people by name. His sermon was relatable—he talked about spiritual healing and physical healing, and days later, I am still thinking about the message.

Perhaps none of this seems extraordinary to you, but all of this indicated to me that I have probably stayed at my old church too long. Church is one of those places that can get comfortable, and the habit can make it easier to stay than to go. The pandemic shook that up for me—I only attended Mass once in-person, and I found my church too casual about Covid guidelines for me to be comfortable.

This has been a year of many changes for me, with my mother’s death and leaving my job, and I feel I have been living in a liminal space. Here, where routines have been tossed aside and everything is new and different, it seems a good time to explore.

What silver linings have you noticed because of the pandemic?

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