La Dolce Vita

We are at our half way mark. Eight weeks down, eight weeks to go, and today is our last day in Italy. We are a little tired of our clothes because we packed so light, but yesterday we refreshed our wardrobe with a shirt for Mike and a skirt for Amy. We'll be sad to leave Italy, and we are excited to see what's ahead in Kiev, Moscow and the UK. We've been able to create a rhythm of prayer in sacred spaces with our prayer book in a simple, sweet and meaningful way. We wrapped up seven weeks in Italy with this class of students and alums from Fuller Seminary exploring Art, Theology and Culture. One last blog on Italy.


Italians live with passion. It's true. Their saints lived with passion. Their coffee, olive oil, wine and gelato are enjoyed with passion. It's seen in art, conversation, cars, fashion and we get to experience it firsthand.

We returned to Assisi with our class. Amy and I had the gift of visiting this medieval town of Francis and Clare three times before this visit with our Fuller Class. This time we shared the experience with others. One highlight was returning to Francis' hermitage perched on Subasio (I wrote a poem in my last blog about the experience) this time with a taxi and with six others from our class. It was a highlight for all of us. So different from the large churches built in their honor, this retreat was a cave and chapels where Francis saw God's glory revealed in nature (Psalm 18, Romans 1) and where he connected with God in prayer and solitude. Francis lived with a passion, a burning love for God, which he learned from Augustine who said our greatest desire is our love for God.

We went to Siena last week. St. Catherine's head and finger are in San Domenico's church. We saw her body in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva church in Rome. (Relics don't have to be whole bodies, and we found John the Baptist's right forearm in the Duomo of Siena…) She almost starved herself and wanted to experience physical pain in order to identify with Jesus' pain. She was so respected for her faith and devotion to God that the pope consulted her when she was in her 20s. She and Francis are patron saints of Italy because they lived with passion.
The Vespa is another great example of Italian passion. It sounds like a swarm of bees or a weed wacker, but it's classic Italian. They come in all shapes and sizes for one, two, for city or touring, compartments or stripped down. I love the red.
 And the red Fiat 500 was our rental car last weekend. It was the first time I've driven since May 2, and it was so fun to drive this little car over the mountains to the west and up the coast to Castigliancello to visit Brenda and Virgil Thompson and family for two nights.
They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with their children, grandchildren and in-laws. On the way we stopped in Civita, Rick Steve's favorite town in Italy. It was forgotten and abandoned until 18 years ago when a man retired in Milan and bought a building in Civita, a hill town that can only be reached by a footbridge. He has started two websites for Civita and Bagnoreggio (the adjacent town) and hopes to restore this beautiful town for more and more to enjoy. When I told him we were driving to a town just south of Livorno, he suggested we take the mountain road west to the Aurelia highway instead of going back to Orvieto and up the A1 Autostrada. It would be a more beautiful drive and besides, the Via Aurelia was the ancient highway built by Marcus to connect Rome to France.

It was a three hour drive through small villages, farm land, mountains, lakes and along the ocean; sunflower fields, olive groves, poppies, pines, vineyards and wheatfields form a magnificent panoramic of Italy. It was a beautiful drive there and back. On the way home we stopped at a gas station situated right off the highway. Even the coffee we had at the gas station in the middle of nowhere was served in a small porcelain cup with a little spoon. Who would have expected a hot corneto con crema at a roadside gas station?
Oh the coffee. It's an event, not a convenience. You stand there and drink it. You sit or stand and talk. You watch them prepare each cup in front of you. You have coffee with milk till noon and then espresso after noon. Passion doesn't mean a vente, it means quality and savoring the crema that sits on top of the espresso, or the cappuccino foam that almost forms a crust on top it's so rich.
At lunch we were talking about Italian food with our residence assistant, Laura, who is orvietana. We told her we have salad dressings in America where the balsamico and the olive oil are premixed with a variety of spices. She had a look of confusion and almost repulsion and asked, "How do you know where the olive oil came from?" Every salad in Italy is dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar so that you can taste salad and the condiments—the fruitiness of the oil and the sweet tangy vinegar. "We avoid oil," I said, "because it's fattening." "But olive oil is good for you," Laura replied. And the salad is just one course of three at lunch, including a meat, a pasta and the salad, and bread on the side to mop up all the great flavors. It takes us 90 minutes to finish our midday meal. We wait for our next course and enjoy each other's company—students, faculty and alums all together.

One of the couples on this trip is Jeff and Barbara McCrory. Jeff is now senior pastor at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Niguel, but he served at Solana Beach as the associate pastor in the early 80s. It's been fun to compare stories of then and now, members still around and connecting points of our ministries. This year is the first intergenerational Orvieto class for Fuller. We've enjoyed being with 20 year olds and 60 year olds, and I think others would say the same. Tonight was the last night we'd all be together for dinner after two weeks of classes, meals and touring together. We ate from 8 to 10, then we all found our way to the gelateria by the Duomo, sat on the steps talking and laughing and taking pictures. "I like you guys," one female student said to Amy and me. That was nice to hear. I told her we designed this sabbatical so that we would be alone at times and with people at other times. That our relationship with each other was important, but so was making friends with strangers and entering into other people's lives was important too.

There's a rhythm to our sabbatical of being alone and being with others, being comforted by the familiar and surprised by the new. On Saturday we fly to Kiev to join our choir, which will be both familiar and new. The new places open our eyes and hearts and ears to experience God, others and each other in new ways.

I was surprised to meet Sara today. She is a sculptor here in Orvieto. Her medium is the tufo, the volcanic rock Orvieto is built upon. (The porous rock forms 1500 caves 50 meters under Orvieto, so that every third step you take you are stepping over a cave. The caves were used to make olive oil, care for the wounded in World War II and raise pigeons in columbariums, which are not filled with human ashes, but are simply niches for the columbus, or pigeon in Latin.) She took us into her garage and told us that she doesn't sculpt for money, but for love of art. Real art is not determined by a critic, she said. If you love something, it is art; if you don't, it's not. When she creates something out of tufo, she has this good energy that gives her goose bumps. She allows nature to be her inspiration. She owns a small grocery store with wine and dried pasta, salume and cheese and cereal and a few toiletries to support her family; she creates art because it expresses her passion for life.

How often do I exchange the convenient or the expedient for lingering in the passion that stirs my heart with "good energy?" What am I rushing off to that I can't drink my coffee in a porcelain cup and saucer? Why don't I devote more time to creativity that expresses my heart and connects me with the creator of the universe whose creativity is his glory?

Tonight I broke down and had another piccolo cono di gelato. This time I tried the lemon and peach. I don't know if it beats the other flavors but it was really good. La Dolce Vita.


  1. I just wanted to say "I like you guys " too.
    I had hoped you might get a chance to meet my son Joshua who has just served two years in the Peace Corps. in the country of Moldova. I know you are in transit to that area. The Peace Corps. has just asked him to re-sign so they are flying him home to see us for a month hence I know he will miss not getting to connect with you. He will return in August to teach Journalism at the University in the Capital of Chisinau.
    May you walk in Sonshine,
    Laura de Ghetaldi

  2. Dear Mike and Amy ~
    Thanks for your detailed snap shot of Kiev and Moscow with the choir. Your presence and views, stories and fun made a huge difference to our time there, esp when we were hot, tired and a bit disoriented at times with all we were doing and taking in. Thanks for inviting us to reflect on images in our heads of the trip and to hold those close as part of what God has enabled us to be and do on tour.

    Blessings on all of your remaining moments away.
    Judy Enns


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