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sfJust a travel note

The first time, or the second, or even the third time I saw an adobe style house – a house that is made of brown sun-dried clay and usually built in desert orarid regions such as New Mexico or Arizona – I was so excited. "Wow! That is sounique!"

But in Santa Fe, the whole city is in adobe style! When I drove around that cityon a beautiful day in January 2006, all buildings – even the restaurants and thestores – were painted in officially sanctioned hues of brown in traditionalSpanish-Pueblo style.

I was so amused when my excitement quickly faded away, and my eyes got really
tired of watching the same rounded-edged brown buildings everywhere! Even the
state-capitol is built in that "oh-so-boring" brown adobe style!

That was why it was so pleasing in the eyes when I saw a different building that
was standing beautifully near the Plaza, the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi.
Framed in the clear New Mexico blue sky and bordered by a tree-filled park, the
cathedral was standing majestically and – yes – differently. The cathedral is
one of only few buildings in Santa Fe that was not designed in the adobe style.
Its French Romanesque lines give a pleasing contrast to the eyes.

And I was immediately attracted to it. I opened the door, walked in, and was
suddenly enveloped by a familiar tranquility. Only few people were inside,
quietly sitting and praying. When I looked around, admiring its beautiful
tiffany-style glass windows, I felt a strong connection that pulled me into the
past.

I remembered being a curious little girl who was amusedly watching some Catholic
priests and nuns telling interesting stories to the children. The name of St.
Francis was always familiar to me. Although I was not a Catholic and neither am
I now, I went to a Catholic school for some years in Jakarta, in my earliest
youth. The school, the St. Francis of Assisi school, was founded by a Franciscan
Order. The connection with the past made me hold the name dearly in my heart.

Francesco Bernadone, or Francis, was born in Assisi, Umbria, in 1181 (or 1182 –
there is no record of his exact year of birth in history) with "a golden spoon
in his mouth". His father, Pietro Bernadone, was a very wealthy merchant, and
therefore in his youth, Francis had everything that every boy wished in his life
– a handsome, gorgeous look, abundant wealth, many high class friends, abundant
luxury and gaiety, and lots of lavish, wild parties. He enjoyed a very rich,
easy life. Yet he was always sincerely gallant, charmed, kind, and so helpful to
everybody. He won everybody's heart and held "the whole world" in his hands.

As if those were not enough, Francis wanted more from life. He longed for more
nobility. He wanted to become a knight. When Assisi declared a war with the
nearby town of Perugia, Francis went to a battle, expecting to reach the glory
and prestige of a victorious knight.

Instead, he was captured by the foes and chained in a dark dungeon for more than
a year. The harsh life in the dungeon made him severely ill. The emptiness of
the life he had been leading came to him during that long illness. That was when
he first seriously thought about life-and-death and the eternity.

Yet, when he returned home and recovered, he still longed for the glory. In
search for victories, he decided to embrace a military career. The circumstances
seemed to favor his aspirations. The knight of Assisi was about to joint Count
Walter of Brienne – who was then in arms against the emperor – when he had a
strange dream. In that dream, he saw a vast wall hung with armors – all were
marked with the Cross. “These”, said a voice in the dream, “are for you and your
soldiers.”

“I know I shall be a great prince!” exclaimed Francis excitedly as he started
marching to the battle field. Wishing to become a truly knight-in-shining-armor,
or eventually a prince, he even decorated his suit of armor with gold, and wore
a magnificent cloak. But a second illness held him from going any further. He
had a second dream, and this time the same voice asked him to go back to Assisi.

He followed the voice and did return home. And the life of the boy who held “the
whole world” in his hands, changed dramatically. He gave up his wealthy, easy
life, and yearned for the life of the spirit. He began to seek for answers in
prayers and solitude. He gave up all his money and donated all of his belongings
to the poor. His father was so mad at him and felt humiliated by his change of
behavior.

When one day he was praying and heard the voice again in his head, “Francis,
repair my church”, he literally took fabrics from his father shop and sold them
to get money to repair the church. His father was raged at his “act of theft”
and dragged Francis before the bishop. In front of the whole town, he demanded
that Francis return the money and renounce all rights as his heir.

Francis returned all to his father, including his clothes. Wearing nothing but
castoff rags, he went off into the freezing woods, singing. And when robbers
beat him later and took his remaining clothes, he climbed out the ditch and went
off – still singing.

From then on, Francis had nothing, and everything.

I opened the cathedral door, and walked out. I needed some fresh air. I felt
dizzy thinking of the idea of nothingness.

Nothingness is existence.

Did Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, the famous Turkish Sufi, also share the nothingness
in one of his poems?

I saw you and became empty. This emptiness, more beautiful than existence, it
obliterates existence, and yet when it comes, existence thrives and creates more
existence.

The sky is blue. The world is a blind man squatting on the road. But whoever
sees your emptiness, sees beyond blue and beyond the blind man.

O, I haven’t been that far. I am just a wanderer. I have been a walking
spiritual study in progress.

I walked to the left wing of the Cathedral, and I saw a tall, white statue of
St. Francis Assisi standing with his peaceful face, reaching forward with both
of his hands. Written on the right side of the statue was one of his famous
prayers.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring
love. Where there is injury, let me bring pardon. Where there is doubt, let me
bring faith. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness,
let me bring light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving
that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying
that we are born to eternal life.

***

(Sources:

(1) “St. Francis of Assisi”, Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM,
http://www.newadvent.org,

(2) “St. Francis of Assisi”, by Terry Matz, Catholic Online
Saints, http://www.catholic.org,

(3) Some lines from "Buoyancy" by Rumi, version by
Coleman Barks in “Ten Poems to Open Your Heart” by Roger Housden. Harmony Books.
2002.

(4) various sources.)

– Laksmi