Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Everything Is Beautiful

Before I came here I watched a mini-series that aired here in Italy a few years ago, The Best of Youth. It chronicles the lives of two brothers starting from their early twenties in the seventies to today. At one point, one of the brothers, Nicola writes his sister from a trip abroad, “Everything is beautiful.” As time goes on his radical declaration is tested. It may sound strange but I identified so strongly with each of the characters that as I watched I felt as if I were given a glimpse into my own future. I related on an intimate level with the story portrayed on screen.
The political, social and spiritual transformations felt so familiar. The natural progression of relationships with their pain and dysfunction simultaneously wrapped up with joy and love is universal.

When Nicola is a bit older, his sister asks him if he still believes in the words he wrote to her as young man. He confesses that he’s not sure. Some things are beautiful but too many are terrible. I confess I too have felt conflicted this week. One minute I am in love with the small moments and then I’m thrown off by the difficult ones.

Beautiful is coming back from Orvieto and falling asleep to the sounds of a party in the patio below me. I dangerously craned my neck out to try and see but a canopy of vines prevented me from truly spying. I loved those sounds- the way the voices carried on the night wind and how when they couldn’t decide on what to play they would skip through the tracks. When I woke up late the next day I eventually wandered to the window again. I looked out onto the Umbrian countryside perfectly lighted with the midday sun. This time I could hear someone playing the accordion. It was so unexpectedly cinematic and lovely.

Terrible is the nauseous feeling I have as I try to write an article about a trial that disturbs me beyond belief. It is exhausting to feel close to something so horrific because it becomes familiar. You put yourself in the place of someone else and play out the scenario in your head wondering how you would react if you were in their shoes over and over again. It is painful. I see my own failure through the failure of others.

I think, however, beauty is most accurately represented in grace. I walked into a store with our instructor to speak with the owner about a potential interview she said something but I didn’t understand. A man called out the translation, “She says you’re beautiful!”
I think I managed to say ‘Grazie’ and I felt my heart swell up with gratefulness. By saying something that she didn’t have to say she allowed me a moment of beauty. She did not say that I was ascetically pleasing or attractive or that I was good, nice or right. Somehow that allowed me to revel in it.

How can we all be so awful and then so wonderful?
Everyday I find myself content and discontent. I am faced with the unexpected reconciliation and all I can say is that I have so much left to learn. I wonder which character would be me right now. I’m not halfway yet. This is just the beginning but by the end of the series, Nicola can say it again.Everything is beautiful. I am not sure that I can say it but I think I can hear it- just like I could hear the party down below and know it was there without seeing it. I know that someone sees beauty in me even if I do not.
I know that life is beautiful. Everything is.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Today in the Basilica when Brother Stephan was showing us the ancient texts I was most thrilled when I understood what he said and managed to ask a question. As impressed as I was with the texts- the gold plating, their age and history- I could not help but wonder what made Brother Stephan chose to pursue a religious life. He was just as interesting to me because he represented the idea of continuing history. Those books so full of facts and clues about the past somehow brought him along on a present day journey that crossed our own prospective paths.
The same thing happened when led up to the Hall of Prayer by Brother Silvestro. He led us up a flight of staris and out onto a long balcony that wrapped around the basilica. It was surrounded by a low wall that provided us with an expansive view of Assisi, the surrounding hillside and valley below.
I was initially struck by the beauty but was that much more conscious of it when Brother Silvestro told us to turn off our cameras and take it in. He seemed concerned by our almost instantaneous picture-taking. I wondered if our eagerness to take pictures appeared to be a lack of reverence. He smiled and was gentle. He wasn’t pious in the way that one stereotypically might associate with the obviously religious.
What is important about places like the Hall of Prayer is not something that can be captured in a photo such as its architecture and structure but rather the purpose and intent behind it. The arches are meant to symbolize hands in the shape one makes while praying. As one prays they are also covered in prayer. This was the place Brother Silvestro chose to show us. It is not open to the public. Because of this I had to assume that this unique place meant something to him.
He also led us to the oldest part of the Basilica where the monks of St. Francis’s order lived. He answered my questions and seemed to appreciate my attempts to use Italian and didn’t mind deciphering my Spanish- my first actual conversation with an Italian on this trip!
I wonder what sparked his desire to commit himself as a friar. I loved the way his face expressed so much of what he must have been saying in the Italian I didn’t understand. And even so, he was saying something by choosing to show us what he did, by his generosity and obvious delight in our awe. I can’t help but wonder if living a life of devoted connection to God, he was enabled to connect with us.
This is what impresses me about Assisi- not its stoic walls or ornate cathedrals nor its ability to attract tourists to snap away at them but the fact that people like Saint Francis and Saint Clare established it as a community, an order, of those who wish to live a life like Christ. It remains a remarkable testament to something not found in well-worn paths but in halls of prayer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Senior Reflection

I had the privledge to share this at Gordon's Senior Breakfast and thought it fitting for my first post:

I came to Gordon with little thought or planning. I packed in a day and felt sorry saying goodbye to my home as anxious though I may have been to leave it during high school. It wasn’t my first time away but Gordon proved challenging in many new ways. I’ve jokingly compared it to putting shoes on a girl who went barefoot her entire life. Perhaps the metaphor is a bit extreme to describe my experience as a homeschooler entering the world of college. I had taken advantage of community college and traveled but I had never moved away ideologically or mentally. I was suddenly in a world where everything was defined in ways foreign to me.

I wrote papers with no thesis statements because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. Thankfully, I was put in the freshman seminar, Christianity, Character and Culture with Elaine Phillips who has the not-entirely unique ability to make a two credit course feel like six. I can’t complain however, because without her I wouldn’t have half the writing skills I have today.
And yet, I became overwhelmed quickly. I didn’t know if I belonged in the pursuit of strictly academic understanding. Dr. Hildebrandt unknowingly convinced me that Gordon was the school for me by patiently answering all of my questions and listening to my doubts after several Old Testament classes. It was the first time in my life that I felt that ideas and misgivings I had weren’t crazy. Maybe I had something worthwhile to say and I knew I had a lot left to learn.
So I stayed and found the next four years to be some of the most difficult and yet most rewarding of my life. I immersed myself in Spanish and became obsessed with sociology with many thanks to the departments of both disciplines and, of course, took full advantage of my liberal arts education with thanks to the entire Gordon faculty and staff.
I interned at Gordon in Lynn and found five millions reasons to smile every Tuesday and Thursday while tutoring. Lynn also became my home for three semesters and gave me the opportunity to have an urban experience while still attending Gordon. I hiked the mountains of Guatemala on a two-week sociology seminar with Kirk McClelland and Dr. Dan Johnson. I learned what it really takes to brew a beautiful cup of coffee but I also learned that we are all connected in ways I will never fully comprehend. My actions affect my brother- a thought that first terrified me and then liberated me. Class of 2010- think of what we can do if we keep this in mind as we head out into our futures!
I had the privilege to visit Tijuana, Mexico twice on Mexico Outreach with leaders like Isaiahs Rivera and Cheryl Deluca where I was given the gift of seeing what true faith looks like. All of these trips tied my Spanish and sociology majors together perfectly and gave me a chance to connect what I was learning in the classroom with the real world. I realized there were reasons that I was in college that had less to do with getting high grades than seeing the world with honest eyes. Many times I found my heart a bit broken and my mind much more confused than it wished to be. Life seemed to contradict itself again and again. My Gordon experience wasn’t confined to the Wenham campus. It stretched past seas and crossed boundaries I didn’t know existed. It was so much to take it!
One moment I was convinced of my beliefs and feeling centered. Then another sociology discussion with my friends would send me spinning. I tore down and reconstructed what I thought I had already learned again and again. But it’s this exercise that I think has taught me the most. I am not sure we every fully learn anything. The Bible tells us to be like sheep, which as Timothy Keller points out quite correctly, is slightly unflattering. I’m a country girl. I know this. Sheep are stupid. Timothy Keller says we all want to be like dogs- we want to know where we are running. We don’t want to have to trust. But what I like is that the Bible also tells us to be like children. This is something I have found disconcerting at more than one point in my life. I was afraid this meant dumbly accepting rules and guidelines. But having worked with children for a few summers now and, of course, tutoring, I realize that children are the most questioning and curious beings one could ever know. And yet, at the end of the day, they still trust their parents. They aren’t afraid to go and get a little scraped up as they learn what’s in the world around them but there is an infallible and intrinsic trust built into them.

It is a beautiful thing to graduate and admit that you have no clue what’s next. It is amazing to walk with the knowledge that you are ignorant and that you will always have everything left to learn. As frustrated as I was when I realized I could not magically “arrive” at full and complete understanding, now I see this as one of life’s beautiful mysteries. I can honestly say I believe that God made us this way.

So please follow peers and classmates- follow graduates of 2010- walk in humility and don’t forget to be childlike and don’t forget what you have yet to learn.