Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Big, Catch-Up Blog

So, the other day we got a tour of the parts of the monastery that we do not occupy. It’s actually quite a large place. However, only portions are inhabitable at this point in time because Gordon College has just started to refurbish and restore some of the previously dilapidated sections of our 13th century monastery. It was exciting to hear Dr. Skillen talk about all the dreams and plans that he has for that space. I have to start with a disclaimer because Dr. Skillen kept reiterating that everything is in very early stages, and that virtually none of these plans has been approve or confirmed, “ don’t go blabbing to your friends and relatives about it.” I am blabbing, however, because I know that those of you who read this blog would be interested to hear what I consider to be a noteworthy idea and one to be fostered.

Dr. Skillen started us in the interior courtyard, which is going to be turned into the performance space. He plans to have live theatre productions put on there in the open air, surrounded by 13th century arches and overlooking the Orvieto valley. The first floor that circles the open box theatre will house the book and gift store, the cantina, the kitchen and the dining tables that will line the stone-covered walkways that peer over the cliff. Going up the stone steps to the second floor (through the book shop), patrons will find their way to the active art gallery. This will wrap around the courtyard on this second floor and, again, look over the storey up. In this gallery space, Gordon has already renovated the ceiling and roof in the Medieval fashion. There are laws in a historical site like our Monastery San Paolo that any restoration has to be done with historical accuracy and keeping in mind the integrity of the structure. And they did it perfectly. Literally the next day, while walking through a Medieval monastery in Assisi, I saw the exact same huge, dark beams and interesting T-structured cross-beaming as they had constructed only a year ago here in our monastery. Through the gallery and around the upper floor to the opposite side of the interior courtyard are several divided rooms that he plans to rent out as studio space or scholarly space to artists or academics working on theses and/or on sabbatical. So, we walked through the studio spaces into what Dr. Skillen envisions as the “Patron’s Apartment.” Basically, anyone who donates to the cause of this vision will get a Time Share of sorts here in Orvieto. Reserve a month to come stay in a huge, open floor-plan, loft apartment with a private terrace looking over the exterior courtyard and onto the vineyards below. Yes, please. There is another huge, open room beyond that, which was previously a bunch of tiny, individual cells (for the monks), but the dividing walls were crumbling to bits, so they were all removed. This is now a monstrous, open room with little arched windows lining the edges and a huge open terrace running the length of it. This room has many potential uses from a library to a dormitory...or even a new Program Director’s apartment. Ah, the possibilities.

All these plans got me really excited and interested and I may just become the new Gordon College spokeswoman for the Gordon in Orvieto Arts Space. Any donors?

On another note, the other day Penn and I got our first piece of mail here in the monastery! Thanks, Bethy! The envelope full of Abel pictures and artwork just made our day (and everyone else’s to whom we flaunted them!!!). When we’re busy running all over the country, it’s nice to get a little breath of home!

So, one thing I didn’t mention on my previous Vatican entry was the meeting we had following our Papal visit, which was incredibly interesting. Now that I have a little more time, I’d like to tell you about it. As a non-Catholic group visiting the Vatican, we were granted a meeting with the PCPCU (The Pontifical Counsel for Promoting Christian Unity). Gordon apparently has a really good relationship with this section of the Vatican, so we got a private meeting with Monsignor Mark Langham, a British Priest who is the ambassador of the Catholic Church to the Anglican and Methodist Churches around the world (just two of many “Churches of the Reformation” to whom this branch of the Vatican reaches out). The PCPCU was born out of the Vatican II and was a rather revolutionary idea for the Catholic Church at that time. A German Cardinal, Cardinal Beae, was put charge of facilitating this new endeavor and oversaw the creation of a brand new, never before attempted Ecumenical document that no longer presented the Catholic role among other denominations as only for the purpose of “bringing them back to Rome.” Currently, the PCPCU is sponsoring 15 bilateral dialogues with leading theologians from other Christian Churches and also has a special office to deal directly with those of Jewish faith, a relationship they see as very important among the non-Christian religions. (There is a separate Counsel entirely to deal with the rest of the world religions.) It was so thrilling to hear this incredibly bright and well-spoken Priest present the Roman Catholic Church’s true intentions, visions and beliefs regarding relations with, well, us. He was excited to report great strides being made with the Church of the East, or the Orthodox Church. Strides towards understanding one another more fully and toward finding common ground and entire doctrines upon which they could literally write a book together explaining their commonalities. Conversely, he seems rather disappointed with the relative standstill he felt with the Churches of the West, as he called us. He mostly blamed it on the internal struggles we are all going through where we can’t even agree with one another in our denominations, never mind have a dialogue to work out centuries of misunderstandings and frustrations with the Catholic Church. He said they are reluctantly taking a step back from these talks and pacing themselves in these discussions. He said some lovely things about the Ecumenical Dialogue not being a debate or an argument, but “an exchange of gifts” among lovers of Christ and members of God’s one Church. He really thinks that there is only one Church in the eyes of God, but that we have “torn it asunder, obscuring that unity He intended.” He was great and seemed like someone whose brain I would like to pick for an extended period of time. When asked what success for his Counsel would look like, he simply said he would like to start with being able to just sit at The Table and share in Communion with all kinds of Christian believers. Wouldn’t that be nice?


  1. WOULD he sit and share Communion with other believers? IF he would, yes, that would be VERY nice. I would feel very welcomed.

    I am so glad both of you are having this monastery experience. I am jealous. No, jealousy is a sin. I am... happy for you.

    If there's one thing that the Monastery teaches it is the the purity and simplicity of faith. But simple isn't a synonym for easy. The current of the world always flows toward complicated and confusing and swimming against it is very difficult.

    If we're not careful, we begin to 'decorate' faith with excessive dogma. Dogma -- whether Catholic or Presbyterian or Congregational -- starts out clear and good and pure but tends toward cloudy, thick, heavy, muddy. That's because humans like to continually put their touch on things... build tabernacles for saints... cisterns for living water. The trouble is, when we pour living water into man-made cisterns, it eventually stagnates.

    Salvation and the way of faith is as simple as the thief on the cross. The humility to see our need, repent of sin, and fall with tremendous gratitude on the grace of God.

    'Tis a gift to be simple.

    God bless you both real good.

    Love, Southdad

  2. This blog was brimming with enthusiasm, possiblity and hope...thanks for sharing, Grace. Where do we sign up to be patrons?

  3. I'm so glad to hear dreams of unity. And I can't wait to be there to see your monastery!