Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Visit to Bose

With a little time to spare after the Chapter of Mats, before the next meeting in Assisi beginning May 16 I decided to explore a bit of Italy and renew some friendships.

Friday I boarded a train in Assisi at 9:30 in the morning. At 5:00 p.m. I arrived in the north of Italy at Biella, where Br. Guido was waiting to take me to Monasterio di Bose.

Br. Guido had been an observer at Lambeth Conference in July and we gravitated to each other sharing stories about our communities.

Bose is an extraordinary place! Nestled in a spectacular Alpine valley, it is a community for both men and women. It is an ecumenical community, founded at the close of Vatican II. In 44 years it has grown to over 70 members, living under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They are completely self supporting and have fantastic ministries: writing icons, translating and publishing books, making jams and jellies, raising honey bees, and extensive vegetable gardens, building furniture welcoming pilgrims of every kind. They have close ties with Orthodox religious communities, Anglicans as well as Taize and Roman Catholic Communities.

It is odd for a verbal person like me to not understand a syllable of what is happening around me. I indulged in a bit of trial and error. Like a person who has lost a crucial sense, I had to rely on my other senses to communicate. Smiles and gestures became very important. Since I couldn't read the instructions, breakfast the first morning was an adventure with an Italian coffee machine with steam and jets of liquid shooting out oddly placed nozzles. My first attempt to get a cup of coffee ended in a mess on me and the floor (the bowls were to drink out of, not for cereal, which wasn't served anyhow). Except for breakfast I ate with Guido and English speaking brothers. In my enthusiasm to talk I flailed my hands around, sending lettuce and bread crumbs flying. They were very patient.

I joined them for prayer and sat in on a lecture about St. Francis. But everything was in Italian and even an ardent admirer like me can only fake it so long. I used much of the time for private prayer and the opportunity for reflection on the events of the past couple of months.

Certainly being itinerant is a challenging way to live. I found myself counting up airports, beds and different kinds of food. All of these things are just externals, but they are tangible ways of thinking about where I have been. When I can remember specific details I find myself catching hold of other memories and ideas. Not understanding language is a common theme: much of the conversation around me in Zimbabwe was in Shona. Yet rarely have I felt isolated. "Shalom" has become very important to me, the sense of well being, wholeness, peace, right relationships. Several people have greeted me in my travels this spring saying "Shalom" and in Italy they then kiss me on both cheeks. (People should kiss more!) My need for prayer has sharpened. When I feel momentarily lonely or our of sorts I find a place to pray, or just begin to say the little prayers that help stitch my psyche back to the basics of acceptance, gratitude and joy. People are so beautiful. I have been deeply impressed by the generosity, the vulnerability of us human beings: we want to help and give so much but at the same time capable of monumental resentments. I found myself going over old hurts, vendettas and fantasies only to be shocked by my thoughts and forced into that place of prayer. The beauty of the present moment.

I never saw much of the mountains that surround Bose. Clouds and rain obscured them. The brothers were apologetic, but I was glad. Sometimes we perceive best when we are forced to rely on other senses, rely on God to provide the beauty and brightness.

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