I’ve never understood Eve. Whenever I think of her apple, my mind is drawn to another woman with an “ordinary” object who led me to Mary. I am hesitating to tell this story because it’s precious to me. Four years ago, through a series of serendipitous events, I found myself spending the month of June at a writer’s retreat in the mountains of Assisi, Italy. On a blistering, hot afternoon, I descended the steps into the cool underground of the Basilica of St. Clare of Assisi.
I was unprepared for the intensity of the relics displayed. I became almost disoriented. Clare was lying there, quite tiny. When I turned, I bumped into what I thought was a lantern, but was in fact a glass cube filled with snippets of baby-fine, white curls. This pile of her hair shook me even more than her bones. Beyond that, I encountered Francis’ tunic, the primitive hide roughly stitched. Maternal tenderness ran through me at the sight of his course stocking. Blood crusted the arch—stains of the stigmata.
And that is when I saw Clare’s dress.
The dress was the shade of spring, when the tiniest of buds first appear in pale green mist. It floated high above all the other relics, as if airborne; so utterly, delightfully girly, I actually laughed out loud. I studied it for over an hour, because I didn’t want to break the rules and photograph this sacred object. I needed to make sure the details were captured in my mind forever: the goddess-drape of the long sleeves, the high medieval bodice, the soft cotton, nearly see-through.
The next day, at breakfast with the other artists and writers, one of the women commented that she did not believe that dress could really be Clare’s, especially after all of these centuries. She said that it had to be some sort of reproduction; and besides, a dress that enormous would never have fit those small bones. I was appalled and then saddened, though I did not argue with her. I spent that day in silence under a ripening fig tree, thinking. And I have thought about this quite a bit ever since.
What I learned then is that I am a woman who quietly believes. I don’t need to convince anyone of anything. I just need to keep walking my own path. And on this path, saints like Clare will keep leading me to the Great Mother. I believe that dress was Clare’s. I believe it was her feminine spirit that emanated from within. In the years since I stood before it, the dress has returned to me, lunar-moth like, floating in the dark and bringing coolness to the heat of my 3 a.m. insomnia. It reminds me to turn to Mary, to pray, to let go and let her magic fill the air like a lullaby—to let the Blessed Mother sing.
Mary, help me to be a good example to those in my life. Help me to take the time for others, to be fully alive and present in the moment.