It seemed very much like Spring this week, with rainy nights and jacket-cold mornings followed by short-sleeve afternoons. The world is waking up. Birds are singing more, the red maples have buds, you just know that you’re going to wake up to leaves one morning. It’s like someone put a lens over the camera when that happens–the days seem to have a light green tent to them. For now, though there is a gray hanging in the sky. Our ornamental trees have bloomed, adding pink and white to the landscape. This week, I saw me first bee, this week I saw my first mosquito. People are coming out of their shells. Runners and bicycle riders have crawled out of their caves, shaken off the snow, and return to their daily exercises.
I’ve been walking a lot more lately–my work has me sitting in front of a screen pretty exclusively, and I’ve realized how much my body, mind, and spirit need to balance that out with some movement and contact with the real world. When I come home, my inclination is to sit on the couch and pop in a netflix or play spider solitaire. My brain tells me I’m tired, because my eyes are exhausted. I’ve been tricked, what I really need is to behave like a human or at least the way a human was originally built to behave. It’s amazing how getting out in the fresh air, listening to whatever or whoever’s around you, and just letting your body move does for the way you feel.
On Friday, I finished my work early and was able to get out to Land Between the Lakes to do some hiking. I’m scouting for a backpacking trip I’m leading in a few weekends in the Fort Henry Trail system. It was my fast day (I’m fasting on Fridays from sun-up to sun-down during Lent), so I knew I needed to resist my typical urge to haul my butt as far as I possibly could go, but I also know how the outdoors can be a pretty wonderful combination for the spirit when fasting. I began at the trail-head at the South Welcome Station, and almost immediately had to cross a creek that was probably a bit high after the morning rain. I removed my shoes and enjoyed the cold water over the rocks. After crossing, I decided to just leave the shoes off for a while, and felt the leaves, dirt, and grass as I hiked up a steep hill to a ridge that looked out over the valley. All was quiet except for the birds and the sound of my pants legs brushing with each step. I passed two backpackers just about to finish a multi-day trip. I wanted to talk to them, to know where they had been and what their trip had been like. They had been rained on a lot, but were in good spirits. Even with the rain, I was envious, ready for my next overnight trip, the adventure of sleeping out with nothing but what you absolutely need.
Each time I would feel weak or head-achy, I would sit on an overturned log and take in the air a little deeper, listening to the sounds of the woods. After about 5 minutes, I would be ready to walk on. On my way back, I took the road. I passed a grove of pine trees, and I could smell them strongly. When you fast, your sense of smell and taste become stronger, and smells like pine that you might not notice before fill your nose like potpourri when you first walk into someone’s house. I again had my shoes off, and the piles of pine needles was one of the softest surfaces I encountered the whole day. I love evergreens, and I couldn’t help but stop. I laid down on the embankment covered in pine needles and just breathed in the air, staring up at the green branches.
This weekend, I went back to Lakeshore to help with their Confirmation Retreat. They were doing an activity where the campers walked around and met people playing characters from church history. This was my second year playing Saint Francis of Assisi, who I think, with a little work, I could impersonate professionally like those history class performers do. It is a great match for me, because I’m obsessed with Itally, already speak some Italian, and am pretty good for a Southerner at getting the accent right. I also already have the balding head, and I’m a conservationist. Never mind that I sort of consider him my patron saint (if that’s permissibly for a non-Catholic), and I’ve been to Assisi and bought one of his crosses there.
I take this role really seriously and really try to get into character. I don’t have a lot of training as an actor, but I try to be him. I try to speak differently (beyond just the accent), I can feel myself change to someone more outwardly warm and happy. I talk to birds and share with people how beautiful I think the world is. I remove my shoes (because Francis sold his shoes for the poor). I carry my body differently when I am Francis. It is such an enjoyable experience, that I wanted to just keep playing him longer, after the activity was over. In fact, as long as I had the costume on, I continued to address people as if I was Francis. There were a few times that I sunk back into my regular self after groups left, and it felt a bit strange–almost like I wasn’t myself.
Francis started out a very rich man, but sold all he had and left his family who didn’t understand to live a life of poverty. That sounds like begging and sacrifice, but the story have Francis walking the hills of Umbria with people following him, singing, telling good news to anyone who would listen. If people were not around, he would talk to the animals. His life was so compelling, that Franciscan Orders sprung up all over the place and grew so quickly, they had to do fast work to get them organized. Francis was never ordained, but the Pope recognized what he was doing and it continued, and it’s still going on all over the world. Francis traveled to Egypt, Morocco, and Jerusalem. In fact, Franciscans were the only Christians accepted in Jerusalem during his time, because of how he endured himself to the Muslims there.
During days when I am out, walking hills, removing my shoes to feel the ground under me, sometimes even talking to the birds, I think of Francis. I wonder how far off I am from living a life like his. There is something in me that wonders if I could do it. I think I am much more cynical than Francis, but I am in love with this world like I think he was. Francis is supposed to have had a dream where Christ asked him to rebuild his church which was crumbling. I see so many parts of our church crumbling in many ways these days. Walking the hills, in love with life, talking to anyone who will listen–I hope this might be a way to rebuild it. More than anything, I want to know more about Francis the more I learn. I continue to walk in this waking world, continue to search for the life that surrounds.