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Through Thick and Thin

Guest Author: 
David Liedl, TOR

Through Thick and Thin: Reflections from Italy

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A tear slipped from my spiritual directee’s rough, bearded face as he explored gratitude for a longtime friend now in hospice care. “Yeah,” he said. “My buddy and I have been together through thick and thin.” For him, thick and thin referred to good times and bad; times of plenty and times of want. Lately, I’ve been pondering thick and thin from a different perspective.

As my excitement grows for the upcoming Spiritual Directors International pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, memories of my first pilgrimage are bubbling up. Rome and Assisi, Italy, are places that provide some of my happiest memories of experiencing both thick and thin. Rome for me was thick. Assisi was thin. Allow me to explain.

Thick time for me is sacred time. One hour is one hour—sixty minutes—no more, no less. But that same period of time can be experienced very differently. One hour at a tedious board meeting or shopping for groceries is often experienced very differently than the same sixty minutes spent at the bedside of a dying friend or in the arms of a lover. Time has the capacity to become thick depending on the amount of attention and intention I offer to that moment. I still remember well my first shot of espresso slugged down at a Roman café; the first gelato gliding across my tongue at a local gelateria; an afternoon riposo watching an old woman water the geraniums on her sun-drenched balcony; the scent of orange blossoms on the Roman night air after a day of walking the busy streets of the Eternal City. Those moments were thick. They became sacred time. Rome provided one experience after another of thick time.

Thin space for me is sacred space. I can be in a place and experience just the surface of my surroundings. I can view everything as distinct from myself: a curiosity, another ho-hum wall of a building, or another trap for tourists. I can also dive deep through the illusion of separateness and pierce the veil. Approaching with intention, I can plumb the depth of story that pulses through every piazza, rises from every rock, and beats in every building. From my first time in Assisi twenty-two years ago, I can still hear the reverberations of whispers in the tiny room where Clare of Assisi prayed for forty-one years; the deep silence of the woods outside the hermitage of the Carceri; and the feeling of coming home when I caught my first glimpse of the pink-stoned city of Assisi rising above the Umbrian valley. Those places were thin. They became sacred space. Every cobblestone of Assisi provided access to a world of thin space.

Undertaking a pilgrimage is to open oneself to the experience of sacred times and sacred spaces. I look forward to returning to Assisi and Rome. I encourage you to find the means to join me and the other pilgrims. Together we will be with each other through thick and thin.

Editor’s note: David Lidel, TOR, is a Franciscan brother and one of the pilgrim guides for the SDI Interfaith Pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, in 2012. Registration is still open for the pilgrimage--join us cultivate compassion in Assisi! For more information visit http://bit.ly/SDIPilgrimage

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