The problem with leaving anything which requires daily maintenance for more than 24 hours is that you sometimes grow to dread the challenge of catching up.  For me this is one of those times.  It must be the way a historian would feel given only one volume of space to communicate four volumes’ worth of data.  Encyclopedia Britanica taking only one book to put letters A-D into a context which is fair both to the subjects contained and to the people using the book for information.  However, waiting one more day would only require that the letter E be added to the other four with no more space for the expounding on subjects like Edison, Egalitarian Idealism, English Muffins, or the Church at Ephesus.  So please, dear reader, forgive the brevity with which I treat my encounters with some of the world’s most treasured holy sites; contained within cities which have served both to shape and be shaped by our faith. 


Assisi is north of Rome by about two hours, depending on which train you take.  My train had me in town by about 10:30 AM, heading out of the station to learn more about the location of my hostel from the only reliable information source in all of Italy: the Café.  The Cafés of Italy can be thought of like “the Man,” is thought of and referred to in the United States.  Although these countless hubs of caffeine and carbohydrates are connected by no tangible thing, their respective owners having never formally met each-other, and their products all appearing as the result of local endeavors by various vendors from throughout the nation; the Café is a reliable source of many kinds of data.  From hearsay to history, forecasts to folklore, the Café, like “the Man,” controls more than a measurable amount of power and influence over people and events.  My point being that the women in the café near the Assisi train station knew precisely where I was staying and how to get their by foot or rubber-clad-metal rim. 


The historical town of Assisi is located entirely on a hill.  This town can be seen from the valley below, appearing large and expansive.  It wasn’t until I reached the town by foot that I was thankful for having visited Rome first.  Compared to the Eternal City, I found Assisi to be quite manageable and a lot of fun to walk.  There are four major points of interest in the city, the greatest of these being the Basilica of Saint Francis.  Walking in, I was in a rush to see what there was to see and to move on; I haven’t got a lot of time for dilly or dally, much less a combination of these.  However, while standing in line to go down-stairs to the area where the remains of St. Francis are housed in a tomb, I caught site of a religious service being performed just beyond the Basilica’s entry way.  I felt convicted to sit in.  A shiny-bald-headed African, in a goldenrod-yellow tunic with a white dove embroidered at the throat, presided over the congregation of about twelve.  His Italian was beyond reproach, which is to say that I don’t speak Italian and at no time knew for certain the particulars of what he was conveying to us.  I did sense that there was going to be some kind of a baby dedication though, because at times he would project through the motion of his head toward an infant in the audience. 


This was the first infant baptism I have ever witnessed.  The parents proud with another couple who must be dear to them stood before us with the priest.  Together, the four of them suspended the child in the air on his back, showing the utmost care.  Pouring holy water from a silver pitcher into a silver bowl with the child’s forehead between, the priest introduced the child into a new life as part of the Body of Christ.  It was beautiful to see the way the priest presented his new congregant to the audience, as though he had just sculpted him out of a medium too fragile for air or light to touch.  With such care a priest cares for his church.


I spent more time in Assisi than anticipated.  I wouldn’t have gone at all had it not been for the response of Dr. Pamela Scalise to my inquiry about places she would go if she were me.  Assisi was her idea, good idea it turns out.   Dr. Scalise is the professor I’ve griped about the most in my time at Fuller Seminary, the one I am most challenged by.  As a result I have grown to appreciate and respect her wisdom around and perspective on things.  It was in Assisi that I decided to head on to Palermo. 


If I could go one place on earth, aside from Mongolia, it would be Sicily.  If I could choose to be something other than the American mutt that I am, aside from Japanese, it would be Sicilian.  I can recall that as a youth I lamented the fact that I would never be able to be in La Cosa Nostra.  Palermo is the gateway of invasion to Italy, and thereby Europe.  It has always been this way.  In my estimation, there is more history on this island than is contained in all of the United States west of the Mississippi.  There are over 350 churches in Palermo alone.  My brief survey of half-a-dozen of them has convinced me that each of these treasures would be the prize of any city in the U.S.  Palermo is like a sponge soaked with gold flake, heavy and dripping with priceless treasure.  What can a man like me tell you about things like this?  You have to see it for yourself.  How can a dog explain the warmth of the sun to another dog?


I will be in Palermo for another full day.  I hope tomorrow to go to one of the surrounding mountains to get a better view of the Mediterranean and the city.  I think I’ll also get my swim trunks wet in the sea who’s flooding is cited in the Bible as having put the entire world under water for forty days.  Ciao.