Knowing the direction we must go is but the first stage of the spiritual search. I traveled long, I traveled hard. I felt sea terrors and land loneliness. But I was blessed to discover more than one place that spoke to my heart. You, too, need such a place, your own Bethlehem where you can be born and reborn, cradled and lullabied. I want to help you find that heart’s home.
During my short life, I found two such places: early a cabin or cell (of which I spoke when we last met), and later a refuge outside Padua. Stretched between those two peaceful places my quest for holy ground found me often on the road. Perhaps you, too, are often on the road, looking behind for the cave you have left. You may be thinking that peace is where you have been in the long-ago distance, not where you are.
Francis of Assisi said that we carry our cloister with us. He, too, had his cave and his special retreats, but he and my spiritual brothers taught me to build not so much spiritual castles in the air but rather spiritual shelters, oases by the roadside. Let me help you to locate or perhaps to prepare a blueprint for the shelter you require.
When I pray over and preach the Resurrection of Jesus, which I love to do, I like to remember all the times and places where the rise Lord appeared to those who loved him. I count ten appearances and none of them are to strangers. Jesus appeared where he felt welcome
You need to make such a welcome place also. You could stumble upon it and claim it. You may design and build it. You might visit such a place and, ever after, be able to go there in your imagination. All these are possible and desirable. When you find this place, you will be like Isaac, to whom God said, “…settle in the land that I shall show you. Reside in this land…and I will be with you and will bless you” (Genesis 26:2,3).
My earliest biographer tells the story of my first claim to holy ground; “While Anthony was staying in that hermitage, a certain friar built himself a cell in a grotto [cave] which was suitable for prayer and where he could dedicate himself more freely to God. When [Anthony] saw it one day and realized how appropriate it was for growth in devotion, he went to entreat the friar and humbly asked him to cede to him the use of that cell. At last, when he obtained the place of peace, the servant of God, after fulfilling the morning community prayers, would daily retire to the cell, taking with himself some bread and a small container of water. In this way, he spent the day alone, forcing the body to serve the spirit….”4 This happened in 1221 in Montepaolo, northwest of Florence.
I cite this tale of how I was a spiritual squatter to show you the grace of a good example. I saw the good accomplished in my brother friar and longed to gain that good for myself. I paid attention. The cost of attention is high but so are the dividends.
Look around you to see what benefits the spiritual growth of your friends. Where do they go? What choices do they make? Where do they worship? Who counsels them?
Now look within. Where have you felt God’s presence most deeply? Is it a place you can visit often? Is there “a place of peace” in your own home? Might you claim a quiet corner as your “cell”? What assists you in the movement toward peace?
Are you more ready to enter a place others have already acknowledged as holy or would you like to create a new “chapel” or cell that you will consecrate as your own?
I took nourishment with me. What nourishes you? The Scriptures? The fragrance of a candle or incense? An image that speaks of the divine? A prayer rug or pillow? The strains of music or the sounds of nature?
It is not my way to collect too many accessories for the prayer of a simple person. Nonetheless, I know that I lived in times where most people were poor and illiterate. You come with more resources as well as more potential distractions. Finding your holy ground requires you to sort out which is which.