Category Archives: Spirituality

“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.

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

The Poor Man of Assisi

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Fresco in the Sacro Speco (‘sacred cave’) of St. Benedict in Subiaco, possibly the oldest and most faithful image of Francis.

Pace e bene! Peace and all that is good! These words of Saint Francis (1182-1226) go beyond divisions, faiths and institutions, right to the core of our shared humanity. Today in Assisi, people are gathering to celebrate his feast day. Having chosen a life radically dedicated to transcendent values, Francis often appears in Assagioli’s writings. Assagioli would have naturally been familiar with Francis, who (along with St. Catherine of Siena) is one of the patron saints of Italy. In fact, upon meeting Assagioli, Frank Vanderlip described him as a modern day St. Francis:

“There seemed to me to burn in this man the pure flame of a love of justice and humanity… He seemed to have a calm and serene understanding of the causes of the troubles of the world and a sensible apprehension of where materialism is leading the world. He expressed such a cheerful hopefulness that a better road is at hand if the world will but take it.”[1]

Can Money and Spirituality Mix?

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The Virtuous Circle of Gratitude and Abundance

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Abundance. This is a difficult word for most of us to swallow. Our entire economic system is based on our desiring what we don’t possess. We often feel like we need more, that we never have enough, that tomorrow we will nothing left. As Assagioli wrote we are driven by Original Fear – fear of not having enough food, fear of hunger – and by Original Greed, which fundamentally is the desire for unlimited growth. So we consume and purchase, possess, save and hoard.

I live in a small Italian village that is slowly dying from the effects of globalization. This story is not new nor limited to the confines of Italy. Only 40 years ago the town was thriving with 1000 inhabitants, a shop, cafe, and school. Now only 100 people live here, many of them over 80 years old. The shop, cafe, and school are all gone. Only the church remains open (just because the 73-year-old priest has chosen not to retire). Continue reading

Courageously Creating Good Will

003415 good willOne could not help but be horrified by the images last week of Dr. David Dao being violently dragged off United Airlines overbooked flight to make way for a crew member. His forcible abuse and maltreatment by the three policemen ended up with him suffering a concussion, broken nose and the loss of two front teeth. Dr. Dao only wanted to go home to see his patients the next morning.

Since the release of the videos made by fellow passengers, responsibility for this incident has been placed on a number of different people.

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Women’s Psycho-Spiritual Gifts

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

Painting by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, hanging in Assgioli’s studio in Florence.

In his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis,” Assagioli discusses the psychological characteristics of both women and men, and how together, “each can become, psychologically, a complete human being.” He also describes in detail “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and wifely function.

In June, 2016, Piero Ferrucci related a funny story about this essay and Assagioli’s ideas concerning feminine roles. In the 1970s, Betty Friedman, author of the Feminist Mystic, came to meet Assagioli in Florence. She had a great time and during a guided meditation, the image came to her of a rainbow uniting men and women in the world. She asked for some of Assagioli’s writings to take back with her. Despite Ferrucci asking Ida Palombi, Assagioli’s secretary and associate, not to give Freidman his controversial writings on the psychology of men and women, Palombi did. And they never saw Friedman again.

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From the Couple to Humanity

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“Psychosynthesis of the Couple” from Assagioli’s Archives

On Saint Valentine’s Day, we recently celebrated ‘the couple’. In fact, Assagioli viewed marriage as a work of art – a canvas where the husband and wife can learn to alternate in a variety of roles. He believed that psychosynthesis of the couple was fundamental to achieving psychosynthesis of humanity. He wrote:

“When talking about the consciousness of a group, talk above all about the human couple: man and woman and their synthesis, and about their central importance as a fundamental basis and model of inter-psychics at its most vast and complex.”

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