“A Wild and Free Creature”

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The gate of the Eremo di Campello (Design by Carlotta Gentili)

One of the special Places of the Higher Self that we will visit in September is the Eremo di Campello, near the town of Trevi in Umbria, Italy. The final road up to the Hermitage is an unpaved, unmarked climb through olive groves and wooded hillsides. The feeling is desolation mixed with expectation. When we finally arrive in front of a locked wooden gate guarded by a furiously barking dog, the feeling turns to “What am I doing here?” But soon Sister Lucia appears with grand tranquility and a warm smile. She slowly walks down a long path from the Hermitage towards us and swings the gate open. “Welcome in Peace,” she says, inviting us inside.

Founded in 1926 by Sorella Maria (1875-1961), the Hermitage currently is a community of four lay sisters whose lives revolve around periods of silence, prayer, study and work, within the broader cosmic sphere of agape (the Greek word for Love).They are not religious nuns, but rather, by their own definition: Le Allodole di san Francesco, The Larks of Saint Francis. Larks were beloved by St. Francis because “they have a cape like religious habit and are humble birds… When flying, they praise God with great ease.” When St. Francis died a multitude of larks came over the roof of the house where he lay. Flying slowly round and circling the roof, their soft singing seemed to praise God.

“An opening of the heart”

Born as Valeria Pignetti, Sorella Maria joined a Franciscan convent when she was 26 years old. But after 18 years decided with great affliction to leave in order to passionately search the traces of il Poverello, “The Little Poor One”, the affectionate Italian name for St. Francis. Her search brought her to the Hermitage, which at the time was abandoned. The Hermitage is built over caves that were frequented during the 5th and 6th centuries by Syrian Christian hermits. It is very likely that St. Francis visited the remote site and it is certain that St. Benardino of Siena once lived there.

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” … ho le catene del mio compito quotidiano che è per me inesorabile quanto sacro.” Sorella Maria “… I have the chains of my daily duties which are for me as unrelenting as they are sacred.” Sister Maria (from Assagioli’s Archives)

With the financial help of Amy Turton (1857-1942), an Anglican Scottish-Englishwoman who was Sorella Maria’s dear friend and “first companion of prayer,” she and four other sisters began their community life together. Sorella Maria’s belief in all spiritual truths brought the community under attack from the Vatican for decades. In 1931, the archbishop of Spoleto wrote: “They are a community of women very much suspect of protestant heresy and modernism.” But Sister Maria saw the way of the Poverello not as a “cage for one’s identity” but rather as an “opening for the heart and vision for continual interior growth as well as growth in community.”

“Friendship is the greatest force”

As a courageous pioneer of practical ecumenism, Sister Maria exchanged letters with Gandhi for decades and met with him when he visited Rome in 1931. She sent her first letter to him in 1928, in which she wrote:

“I am a wild and free creature in Christ, and I want with Him, with you, with all of you, with every brother and sister searching God, to walk along the path of the truth…”

Her last letter to Gandhi was to congratulate him on his birthday in 1947 – just three months before his assassination. Besides Gandhi, Sister Sorella corresponded with many world figures, including Albert Schweitzer, Evelyn Underhill, Dorothy Day, and even Roberto Assagioli! She wrote: “I consider friendship one of the greatest forces in the world.”

011521 Sorella MariaFrase di Sorella Maria
“Non turbare” è giusta nel senso di non turbare con la nostra personalità, le sue reazioni ecc. ma non nel senso spirituale. Spiritualmente spesso occorre “turbare”. Viene da sé inevitabilmente

Saying of Sister Maria
“Not disturbing others” is right in the sense of not disturbing them with our personality, with our reactions, etc. But not in the spiritual sense. Spiritually, it is often necessary “to disturb” others. It comes inevitably all by itself. (from Assagioli’s Archives)

During a recent visit to the Hermitage, I was told by Sister Daniela Maria that Assagioli probably also paid a visit to Sorella Maria at the Hermitage. This is very likely given the fact that they were both good friends with Father Brizio Casciolo. This is the priest who married the Assagiolis in 1922 and the man who most likely helped to secure Assagioli’s release from Regina Coeli prison in 1940. Also an early pioneer of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, Father Casciola was a dear friend and confidant of Sorella Maria since 1916, when she was still a nun with the Franciscan Missionaries of Maria.

“The Light can come from far away”

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Sorella Maria

Ahead of her time and radical even today, Sorella Maria was familiar with the Bhagavad Gita and The Dialogs of Confucius. She said:

“The Light can come from far away… We are not the only ones who possess the Truth. From the sacred books of different peoples can come to us a ray of Light.”

Our visit in September promises to bring us to an oasis of inner and outer peace within the tensions held in all human life. With some luck, we will discover, inwardly and outwardly, in the words of Sorella Maria:

“An invisible church that rises to the stars, not divided by cultural or racial diversity, but rather formed by all sincere seekers of truth.”

References

M. Ceschia, Sorella Maria di Campello, La Minore: Eremita, Cattolica, Francescana La via al Sacrum facere, Doctorate Dissertation, Padova University, 2015/2016. Retrieved on 5 June 2018 at https://www.thesisfttr.it/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Ceschia-Marzia-Tesi-discussione.pdf

L. Ferrea, “Le Carte della Polizia Politica Fascista,” in Assagioli, R., Libertà in Prigione, C.A.Lombard, ed., Istituto di Psicosintesi, Firenze, 2018, pp. 89-104.

R. Morozzo della Rocca, Maria dell’Eremo di Campello. Un’avventura spirituale nell’Italia del Novecento, Guerini e Associati, Milano 1998.

L. Scaraffia, “Sorella Maria, eremita di confine.” L’Osservatore Romano, 30 August 2913, p. 5.

Una vita francescana, Pro-manuscripto, Eremo di Campello sul Clitunno 1987.

Confessions of a Smartphone Virgin

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My neighbor Giselda’s (92) telephone. When asked about it, she said: “The phone company came years ago to give me a new one and I sent them away. ‘Why do I need a new one?’ I asked them. ‘This one works fine.’ (photo by Catherine Ann Lombard)

Okay. I know this sounds half-crazy… But I have never owned a smartphone. People keep wanting me to go on WhatsApp and I keep thinking… What’s Up with this WhatsApp? I’m already spending too much time writing and researching on my desk computer, not to mention answering 800 emails just to meet someone for a coffee.

Granted, I don’t have an extended family with whom I need to keep in touch with. My husband is usually right down the hallway. We actually share the one dumbphone we own. Like in the good ol’ days when the phone sat in the corridor and everybody had the same phone number. People call me and are surprised when he answers. People call him and are surprised when I say ‘Hello’.

I’m probably the only Western woman to drive off to the supermarket without a phone. I never seem to remember to take it with me. It’s a nuisance most of the time. When I lived in Germany, 2 km from the Dutch border, it would constantly beep to tell me that I was now in Germany, now in the Netherlands, now in Germany, now in the Netherlands. This dumbphone thought I was the dummy. Continue reading

A Florentine Well-Spring

Photo of Assagioli in glass caseAnother scorching afternoon in Florence, Italy. Thirty pilgrims have gathered at Casa Assagioli, the home where the founder of Psychosynthesis Roberto Assagioli lived, worked, taught, and wrote. It is 2012 and the first International Meeting at Casa Assagioli. The guests hail from all over the world — Canada, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, France, Haiti, Spain, Poland, Ireland, the USA and, of course, Italy.

Upon arrival, we are warmly greeted by the members of Gruppo Alle Fonti (roughly translated as the “Group at the Well Spring”, the dedicated curators of Assagioli’s materials.  After introductions, we divide ourselves into two groups for the house tour. Soon English, Italian, and French fly up and down the two-story villa. Hung on walls throughout the house, white boards display Assagioli’s handwritten words and diagrams, beckoning all to reflect, know, love. Continue reading

San-Ni-Ichi

Peak Experience3 ClombardTranspersonal experiences have blessed my life for many years. Perhaps one of the earliest and strongest occurred in 1987 while I was living in Japan. After graduating from UC Berkeley, I moved to Fukuyama, about 400 miles south of Tokyo to teach English.

Before I left, my brother gave me the name and address of Takashi (not his real name), a friend of his from business school who lived in Tokyo. Soon after settling in, I contacted Takashi and introduced myself. He replied with the suggestion that I meet him in Kyoto where he was planning a business trip. During the weekend, he would have time to accompany me through the ancient capital city.

I happily agreed to this idea. Kyoto is renown for its numerous temples and shrines. Surrounded by mountains and graced with bamboo gardens and philosopher paths, Kyoto seems to hold the essence of Japan. With a guiding hand, I hoped to touch this essence. Continue reading

Meeting Ourselves in Foreign Lands

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Valsorda, Umbria. One of our stops on Journey to Places of the Higher Self, September 17-23, 2018

During the initial interview with every client, I always ask: “Do you have any religious or spiritual practice?”

The following is a typical response:

“I would call myself an atheist. As a scientist, I know that there is no proof showing that God exists. But I also know that there is no proof showing that he does not exist.”

Interestingly, clients’ responses become very different when asked if they had ever had a feeling of connection to something greater than themselves. Without exception, all clients can recall having a transpersonal or peak experience at some point in their lives, mostly while they were in a natural setting in a foreign landscape. Continue reading

Snow Blossoms

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First day of Spring, Umbria, Italy, 2018

As I write these words, my 93-year-old mother is dying. We are separated by an entire continent and an entire ocean, 6000 miles apart. It is a tremendous challenge to not race onto a transatlantic flight to be by her side. But I realize that our distance now is a gift, for I have no other recourse but prayer and the willful and conscious act of radiating Light and Love.

Only a month ago, we were together in sunny California where I was visiting her for three weeks. While I was there, my mom told her Hospice care worker, “I’m having such a good time with Catherine that I forget to take my pain medicine.” Continue reading

Psychosynthesis Granny Power

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Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi, in the early 1900s

For this International Women’s Day, l’d like to introduce you to the first President of the Institute of Psychosynthesis in Rome, which in 1926 was initially called the Istituto di Cultura e Terapia Psichica (Institute of Culture and Psychic Therapy). Yes, that’s right! She was a woman…the Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi (1853-1931), whom Assagioli greatly admired both as an international leader as well as a devoted grandmother.

To this day, Rasponi remains little known even in Italy. She was born in Ravenna into an aristocratic family (her grandmother was Napoleon’s sister Carolina) and was privately educated. Married at the age of 17 to Count Venceslao Spalletti Trivelli, she had five children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1874, the couple moved to Rome where her husband became a Senator to the Kingdom. Rasponi was widowed in 1899 when she was 46 years old. Continue reading