On Sunday The Church Bells Are Ringing

It is a lovely, cool morning with an empty sky and a bright sun, and the church bells are ringing every hour or half hour or even every fifteen minutes.  I haven’t counted yet.  I slept for a long time last night, and in my subconsciousness was thinking of verb conjugations for my Italian homework.  So much knowledge has been crammed into my brain this last week I have little time to think about anything else.  I’m still trying to sort it all out, and when I woke up this morning to the beautiful sun, I had a sense of peace and calm.

Last night at 8pm I finally stopped studying to go find myself dinner.  Claudia and the family are gone for the week, and I ran out of food last night.  I walked around various places, almost stepped into one or two restaurants, but decided against them.  Finally, not being able to ignore my hunger, I picked a restaurant that had the Tuscan soup which I love (and have forgotten the name of.)  The soup is made with bread, beans, and vegetables.  It was the only thing I ordered (besides some house wine), which the waitress seemed to think was strange.  But what was even stranger for her was when I ordered fresh bread after I was finished with my soup. “Solo pane? solo pane?” she kept saying, looking at me. “Si, si—solo pane!” I said, making some weird gesture with my arm to give her the idea that I knew it was weird to order only bread.

When no one was looking, I crammed a few pieces of bread into my purse.

I felt like some sort of character from a Dickens novel, spending the last of his money on a meal, and saving some of the food—stuffing it away—so no one would know how desperate he was.  Of course, I wasn’t desperate, I just knew that the bread would come in handy for today when I would take myself out for a picnic to the gardens, and I could make a sandwich with the bread I took.

I paid the bill and went to sit in the Piazza, perfectly alone and perfectly content to be alone watching all these interesting people, listening to the only sound there was to listen to: the blended hum of people talking, with an occasional screech from a child or cheering of a crowd.  I walked home in the dark and tried to concentrate on more Italian, but my eyes were heavy and I went to bed, leaving it all for today.

And when today came, I had breakfast with a Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger placemat, my typical cocoa with orzo in warm milk, and some kind of biscuit.  I sat quietly eating, while listening to a refreshing sermon that I heard once a long time ago.  When it was over, I kept wishing it hadn’t ended.  Now the rest of the Italian waits for me, and I’m about to go in, resolutely, to butcher conjugations.  I have half an idea my teacher will be horrified with me tomorrow, but if she is we’ll have to have some one on one time.

Today I’m going to try to find the botanical gardens.  I am ready for some rest—not the rest of sleeping, but the willed kind of a rest.  The kind of rest you experience when you say: “I’m not going to let this or that worry me.”  I am ready to walk out of this apartment, into the old stone street shaded by the city wall, up the hills, and into beauty.  I am ready to experience beauty, to become one with it and reconciled with it, because it is peace and comfort to know that Christ is beauty and everything lives and breathes in him, and I can hear him when the wind blows and I can hear him in the light of the sun and the birds when they sing.  So I go out to be at rest.

After my verb conjugations are complete.

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She Believes In Fairy Tales

She does.  When she’s sick she reads Grimm’s fairy tales.  In Ezekiel 16 she reads a grim fairy tale, and it is by far her favourite.  She philosophizes about fairy tales, she writes them, she loves them.  And furthermore, she doesn’t care if people think it’s silly, because she knows in her head and her heart and all her being that it’s not.  You don’t think something’s silly that you believe in.  Look, it’s not just Cinderella or Snow White.  It’s what they mean.  She knows that they mean something far greater than happy endings, than dancing princesses and wicked old hags.  For her they represent more serious plights in the world today, each one of them.  They represent things in this world and out of it, transcendent.

She lives a fairy tale.

The truth about fairy tales is this. Faeries do not fly around on feathery wings.

The truth about fairy tales is this.  Some have sad endings.

Fairy tales aren’t always the fluffy animated Disney characters whose likenesses you can purchase at your local Wal-Mart.  In the original Cinderella story, Cinderella’s sisters had to cut parts of their feet off to fit into the glass slipper, and it was by the blood dripping on the road to the palace that they were betrayed.

She believes that the story of the Bible is like a fairy tale, and that the hidden chapter that reveals this peculiar truth is Ezekiel sixteen, and that’s not a pretty story either.  “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’”

There is beauty in these tales, and there is terrible grief and much to instruct her.  To quote her dearly beloved Chesterton on the matter… he says that fairy tales don’t prove that dragons exist, but that dragons can be beaten.

I have a visa in my possession, I have a plane ticket, a few clothes, one book, and two weeks left in America.  The adventure? Siena, Italy, in the heart of Tuscany.

Image

I took this picture on my last trip to Italy.  When I clicked down on the button, exclaiming again and again because of the sudden, unexpected beauty, I had no idea that just two months later this would be my home for four months. A few hours later, the opportunity was presented to me and I said, “I’ll look into it,” and to myself I said, “What a joke.”  I applied to the Siena Art Institute, I was accepted with a full tuition scholarship.

In two weeks I’m leaving to live with an Italian family and to study creative writing in this historically rich town.  I haven’t latched onto reality yet, even in the midst of working hard every day to make this happen.

And I’m terrified, really.  I’m terrified to be so disconnected from my home.  I’m terrified of that loneliness.

But I also believe that the fear can be conquered.  And my mind is open.  My desire is to learn.  In this opportunity God has blessed me exceedingly. My desire was never to attend a university for four years.  Rather, I wanted to study in areas I was gifted in, specifically creative writing.  My desire was to learn, to be competent in what I want to spend the rest of my life doing—writing.  I want to write to change the way people think, and I don’t—don’t—don’t want to write Christian fiction.  (My hero is Wendell Berry.)  I had no idea that I could study outside of a university—especially overseas.  I didn’t even look into the idea because I thought it was impossible—even though it was exactly what I wanted to do.

Now I have to ask for your prayers.  I’m going to a strange place, away from fellowship that has been soul-strengthening.  I am going to a place that is prominently Atheistic and then Catholic.   I am praying that I won’t be alone and that I will find some other Christians to fellowship with.  Pray that my mind will be open and I will learn many things from this trip.  Pray that I remember to blog.  Pray that God gives me strength to be stalwart in my faith, and that he will sustain me throughout these four months.  Pray that he will prepare me for whatever lies ahead, since I don’t know what to expect.

I am excited.  I am sad to leave my home, sad to leave many people I love, but I know that God is working through me, and I can’t wait to see where he is taking me in all of this.

I believe in fairy tales.  I am living one.  And so, I believe that this is an adventure, absolutely worth taking and worth enjoying.

And I give all the glory to God for everything in my life, for the suffering and the joy and the contentment and the peace.  He’s working through me and sanctifying me, and all of it is for his glory.  Praise the Lord.

R.H.

A Young Thinker

This young man’s name is Luther Whitfield Closson Hopkins. Now, with a name like that, you can’t help but be some sort of thinker, or at least a person with very special and intelligent thoughts.  Luther is a quiet sort, but sometimes he likes to ramble.  He can tell you all the habits of all the different kinds of lizards, and he’ll tell you exactly what sorts of things they like as if he had a conversation with them.  Today we were out in some woods, and we were reptile hunting together.  I remember exactly where he said something that made my heart ache it was so beautiful.  All his own words too.  We had passed by a space where long grass was growing in front of a forest of dead, mysterious looking pine trees.  We had been commenting on how bright the grass was, and how mysterious the forest looked.  All of a sudden, this came out of his mouth.

There are sometimes when you feel hot, and you want water, but you want to wait til you’re even hotter, so the water will taste even colder. And you lay there, waiting, and then the cicadas start singing, and you feel like you’re going to die.”

Whoa.  “And you lay there, waiting, and then the cicadas start singing and you feel like you’re going to die.” That struck me as being beautiful. I asked him, later on, if he felt like he had lived a really long time.  He answered no, not really, but when he thinks of a hotel we went to a long time ago with our cousins, and he stepped in the hot tub and the water went over his head, and when he got set on the refrigerator to watch everybody, well, when he remembered that he felt like it was a long time ago, and it made him feel old.  Luther and his whole nine years. He has the ability to draw up a wonderful image, and make you feel that you are living something so simple and beautiful that it aches.  Perhaps it was his attitude.  He had no idea what he was saying. It came naturally to him, as naturally as breathing, and he didn’t know that he was creating something so beautiful to me that I couldn’t answer him right away at times.  I wish I could write it all down, I wish I could remember everything he said.

I love this about Luther: his deep, thoughtful mind. the questions that he asks, his understanding and his simplicity.  All of my siblings have this element about them, but Luther has seemed a bit scholarly since the time he was born.  When he was a toddler he would put on glasses and pretend to read “The Tale of Jeremy Fisher” but he couldn’t read…. instead he was reciting it from memory.

I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this young man.